Marcus Rashford has vowed to fight on after Boris Johnson refused his plea to give 200,000 vulnerable children free school meals this summer.
The England footballer, 22, has written a heartfelt open letter to MPs describing how he relied on the lifeline as a child and called on them to extend it.
After being snubbed, Rashford vowed: “I refuse to give up.”
The Man Utd striker's letter highlighted his own experiences growing up in poverty and asked for the voucher scheme to be extended.
But despite huge support, his call was rejected by the Government.
Rashford wrote: “Wembley Stadium could be filled twice with children who have had to skip meals during lockdown due to their families not being able to access food.
“As their stomachs grumble, I wonder if those 200,000 children will ever be proud enough of their country to pull on the England shirt and sing the national anthem. Ten years ago, I would have been one of those children. This is England in 2020.”
The PM praised Rashford for using his profile “to highlight some very important issues”.
But No.10 confirmed the scheme would not extend into the summer break.
Rashford vowed to fight on, tweeting: “We aren’t beaten yet, stand strong for the 200,000 children who haven’t had a meal to eat today.”
He has raised about £20million to supply three million meals to vulnerable people with charity FareShare UK during the lockdown. His letter told how he relied on free school meals despite his single mum Mel working hard to support him, brothers Dwaine and Dane, and half-sister Tamara.
More than 250,000 people backed him on social media.
Gary Lineker told Health Secretary Matt Hancock: ‘You asked footballers to do their bit… Perhaps, in return, you could help one of them, who’s already done immeasurable good.”
Of growing up in Wythenshawe, Gtr Manchester, Rashford told BBC Breakfast: “My mum and I used to go to a shop called Poundworld.
“She would get seven yoghurts and we would have one for every day.” He said he went hungry at times as a child, but added: “I knew how hard my mum was working, so I would never moan.”
Rashford told the BBC he joined United and moved into “digs” at 11 instead of 12 as Mel struggled to make ends meet.
He said: “I needed to be eating the right foods and be close to my team-mates. She made that decision and United allowed it.”
He wrote in the letter that he wanted to use his influence to protect “all vulnerable children”.
“As a black man from a low-income family… I could have been just another statistic. I would be doing myself, my family and my community an injustice if I didn’t stand here today with my voice and my platform and ask you for help.”
Labour will on Tuesday call on the PM to directly fund the meals.
Shadow Education Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey will tell Parliament: “It would be deeply callous of the Government not to ease the financial pressure on households and ensure children can eat during the summer holidays.”
The Department for Education announced £63m for the “most vulnerable families” with summer activities including meals. But Labour said it amounted to only just over half the £115m needed to extend the meal scheme.
About 1.3 million children are eligible for free school meals in England. To qualify, a household must earn a maximum of £7,400 a year after tax.
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Children from families who meet certain criteria can also be eligible before they start school.
This continued in the Easter and May half-term holidays, but will end for the summer.
Rashford wrote he was contacted by an unnamed MP who told him: “This is why there is a benefit system.”
Despite the Government’s snub, he urged people to keep contacting local MPs to express their support.
“I refuse to give up,” he said.
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