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Paul Vallely: MPs should talk before they tweet

11 September 2020

Paul Vallely agrees with Marcus Rashford’s advice over free school meals


Marcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford

SOME people never learn. The Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake, crossed swords with Marcus Rashford this week, seemingly forgetful of the fact that his Government was forced into an abrupt U-turn over free school meals last time the Tories tangled with the footballer and his three million Twitter followers (News and Comment, 19 June).

Mr Hollinrake was boasting on Twitter that the Government’s “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme had been an extraordinary success in his North Yorkshire constituency because it “simultaneously helped boost the economy, encouraged staycations and got us all used to venturing out once again”.

If the Government could manage all that at once, another Twitter user replied, why did it not help our hungriest schoolchildren until it was prodded to action by a footballer? Mr Hollinrake replied, to the questioner and to Mr Rashford: “Where they can, it’s a parent’s job to feed their children.”

To be fair, the MP did say “where they can”, but he failed entirely to take on board Mr Rashford’s point that the system is so stacked against those caught in the poverty trap that many parents clearly cannot feed their children. In such a circumstance whose job is it then?

Africa has several proverbs to the effect that “It takes a village to raise a child.” It is a recognition that parenting is not an indivisible individual responsibility. It is one undertaken by parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, neighbours, teachers, medics, employers, faith communities, businesses, and — yes — governments. Theologically, we call it solidarity — which is “not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes” of others, to quote Pope John Paul II, but, rather, is “a firm persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”.

Mr Rashford understands this intuitively in a way that clearly eludes a Tory MP who once lived in a castle. As a child who was dependent on free school meals and the kind­ness of the parents of his schoolfriends to avoid going hun­gry, the footballer has publicly explained: “My mum worked full-time, earning minimum wage to make sure we always had a good evening meal on the table. But it was not enough. The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked.”

It was unsurprising then that, after securing the U-turn that provided poor children with food vouchers during the school holidays, the footballer has continued his campaigning. He has just persuaded Aldi, the Co-op, Deliveroo, Iceland, Kellogg’s, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Waitrose to back his campaign with the charities FareShare and the Food Foundation to get ministers to implement the national food strategy commissioned by the Government but not yet acted upon.

At a foodbank, the footballer recently met a mother who, with her two young sons, is currently living on three slices of bread a day “soaking them in hot water and adding sugar, hoping that the porridge consistency might better sustain the hunger of her one-year old child”, he wrote afterwards. “This is the true reality of England in 2020.”

The MP would do well to talk to such struggling families before posting on Twitter, the young footballer advised. It’s advice we would all do well to heed.

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