Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign: footballers replacing politicians?

When Conservative MP Ben Bradley (along with countless others) opposed extending Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals over the holidays, it felt that British politics had stooped to a new low. Whilst I strongly believe it is everyone’s position to commit to changing policies that knowingly hurt the most vulnerable, when did footballers start caring about child poverty more than politicians?

The answer? A while if we are being honest.

He deserves to be applauded for mobilising local communities, businesses and politicians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The notion that what Marcus Rashford is doing is brave or revolutionary is heartbreaking. What he does deserves to be applauded for, is being transparent in saying that he had to have state subsidised meals whilst growing up in a single parent household and fighting stigmas that come along with: coming from a low or working class background, being black, and not having a formal further education.

He deserves to be applauded for mobilising local communities, businesses and politicians during the COVID-19 pandemic. What should not warrant applause is fighting for children to be able to eat. I say this purely because we should not have to. To imply it is anything but a necessity and a human right is villain-like behaviour. 

Unlike many Conservative policies in recent times, the denial of Rashford’s appeal is not something indirect or discreet. It’s a direct action that will impact poor families and increase Britain’s wealth inequality.

Reasoning that the parents are at fault for being, ‘wealth-fare scammers’ or ‘crack heads’ is deplorable and also completely irrelevant. Why should children be held responsible for the actions of their parents? To use this rhetoric is to admit that the children who would be able to apply for free school meals are in already vulnerable positions and require extra guidance.

Why, when they get paid so much, are they discouraged from engaging in philanthropic work?

Social media has made politics more available than ever, with a wider audience now being able to both access and post information and cases of inequity. The idea of keeping up with current affairs being a white, upper class game is no longer truthful, and the normalisation of questioning systems of court that were formed hundreds of years ago (when the only people who could vote were white, land owning, Christian men) now can only be positive.

Historically, athletes would have been ostracised for speaking out about politics. The treatment now is still not justifiable (just ask Mesut Özil) – but it has improved. It begs the question: Why, when they get paid so much, are they discouraged from engaging in philanthropic work?

In the specific case of footballers, maybe they are reprimanded away from becoming adjoined to anything political because 33% are classed as BAME (whilst 13% of the UK’s population is classed as Black, Asian and minority ethnic). It’s well publicised that the sport has an extreme problem with racism.

It feels natural that at some point we would transition to a platform of activism that is more representative than the colonial approach we currently have in place. No matter what position of privilege you find yourself in whilst reading this, I’m sure you can agree that Marcus Rashford is a much more relatable individual than a lot of the MPs that currently sit in Parliament. 

I hope the movement of rejecting mainstream political institutions, whilst they still don’t work for all, continues and more people understand the real power of mutual aid. Over half term, more than 200 independent and chain restaurants agreed to offer free school meals for children in education, rendering any decisions made by Parliament redundant, much like I think they all should be.

By Megan Williams

Image: by Patrick McDonald via Flickr

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