The focus of the political debate on Free School Meals during the holiday period has been both a moral based issue and a major national issue, alongside the inevitable announcement of a new national lockdown; attention has been particularly placed on Manchester United and England National Team footballer Marcus Rashford. I, for one, think he’s potentially the most significant breath of fresh air in politics in the post-war period.
Quite a bold statement, I’m aware, so let me explain. Marcus Rashford has been advocating for greater aid to impoverished children and families for a while now; last summer, he forced the government into an embarrassing U-turn over the provision of free school meals during holidays, a great victory for those in need of the support. Awarding him with an MBE was perhaps the government’s strategy to appease him and his demands. However, he has time and time again proven that personal recognition was not enough.
But, for Rashford, as anyone else who supports the FSM demands that he brought forward, this issue is completely apolitical. The government tried to overcomplicate the debate, trying to claim that child poverty was also an issue under Labour; this ignores the urgency of the situation, and places unnecessary competition between parties who should attempt to work together.
The effectiveness of Rashford’s demands is also due to him avoiding to pick a side, which so often makes so many activists fall short of their mission. Having no reason to defend Labour, he chose to not do it. He isn’t interested in party politics, he just wants to help starving kids.
On a national scale, this debate has served to divide social classes even step further. If one so strongly objects to wanting to feed children who could otherwise not have access to food, I have no respect for them. It’s certainly not the child’s fault their parents cannot provide for them – and most times not even the parents’ –, so why should they be made to suffer?
The cry for help from millions of people across the UK might at first sight seem like an issue needing no discussions or disagreements, virtually impossible to disagree over. Of course, there are always those who manage it.
Arguments about how easy it is to feed a family for £2.50 a week have surfaced, as well as comments from the likes of Mike Bird, a Walsall Tory councillor who told families to start shopping at M&S because of their “3 meals for £7” deals (which, for reference, would mean you’d run out of money after about four days, if you were a single parent on universal credit).
So why has this become a political debate when, surely, it’s a very simple moral question with an obvious answer? It’s shown Boris Johnson and his cabinet’s lacking empathy or even basic understanding of the plight of the working class in a saddening detachment from the people he’s governing.
Looking back to the late 80s and 90s, with class dealignment coming into existence, the once strict boundaries that divided society by wealth and upbringing status gradually started to blur. More people were able to own their own home thanks to initiatives like the Right to Buy policy, and the number of people undertaking further education rose.
While this trend stagnated a while ago, with the countless issues which have plighted 2020, the class divide has been deepened once again. Johnson’s government hasn’t helped: significant aid has been denied to the North of England, which is, unexpectedly, mostly working class and heavily Labour-voting. It’s as if Mr. Johnson doesn’t believe the masses to be ignorant about the ‘me first, you later’ attitude that his government has constantly displayed by shirking responsibility and only looking after itself.
Now, back to Rashford. The formula is simple. A man on a very straightforward mission, doesn’t want children of the world’s 5th richest nation to go hungry. He knows what he’s on about, having relied on Free School Meals as his only proper meal of the day for years, he’s apolitical, he can’t be bought off with a pat on the back and an MBE, and he won’t give in.
He’s aware that he’s becoming an enemy of those who he has, himself, embarrassed and caused problems for, but he does not plan on stopping until he gets what he’s after. He’s already loved and respected across the nation, transcending boundaries and wants to help.
All things considered, I think Mr. Johnson has an awful lot to fear, don’t you?