The National Education Union (NEU) councillors’ network welcomes the open letter from Marcus Rashford and wishes to sincerely thank him for speaking out about his family’s personal experiences of food insecurity.
At the start of May, over 1,100 local councillors wrote to the secretary of state for education, Gavin Williamson, calling for greater support for local authorities to help vulnerable families and calling for free school meals to be provided throughout the school holidays.
Marcus’ emotional and honest letter successfully highlighted the issue of holiday hunger and undoubtedly forced the Government to continue the current food voucher scheme over the summer holidays. We applaud Marcus for his letter and all the work he does to support vulnerable families and young people. The difference that the extension to the scheme will make to millions of children, young people and their families can not be underestimated.
As a group of local councillors, we aware that the free school meal voucher scheme currently in place is still not working for everyone and that some families are still not being supported through the scheme. We are seriously concerned about the choice and location of supermarkets in some areas and the availability of vouchers to some families. We know that Marcus shares these concerns and we hope that the scheme will continue to be reviewed to ensure it provides support to all those families for which it is a lifeline.
Alongside food insecurity, children and young people are facing further disadvantage during the current crisis, unable to complete home learning due to lack of devises and internet access in the home. Seven hundred thousand children across the UK live in houses with no internet access. The Government must, as they promised, provide laptops and internet access to all disadvantaged children now as a matter of urgency.
In his letter, Marcus speaks about the situation faced by himself and his family over ten years ago and as local councillors we have seen poverty and disadvantage increase across the country throughout the last decade. In 2017-18 over 4 million children were born into poverty in the UK. The issues and disadvantage facing children, young people and their families were not created during the crisis of the last three months and will not be solved without a long-term plan.
Local authorities need to be at the centre of creating and delivering a plan to ensure that supporting disadvantaged children, young people and their families is a key priority going forward. The NEU Councillors’ Network believes that plan should include a unique summer holiday offer for children and young people; providing safe, engaging and enriching activities which focus on responding to the anxiety, uncertainty and issues they have faced during lockdown. We ask the Government to provide funding and support for all local authorities to offer such holiday schemes to disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people in their communities.
One week ago, the NEU wrote to the prime minister with a 10-point recovery plan for education. Many points in that plan are written with the poverty, disadvantage and inequality that has faced millions of children over the last decade, and that have been highlighted during the current crisis, in mind. The NEU Councillors’ Network is extremely grateful for the attention and focus Marcus has been able to shine on these issues with his very honest and heartfelt letter.