Co-op retailers join food insecurity taskforce set up by Marcus Rashford

The campaign calls on the government to take new measures to tackle child food poverty

England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has teamed up with some of the UK’s biggest food brands to launch a food insecurity taskforce to tackle child food poverty.

The taskforce encourages the government to implement a number of recommendations made in the interim National Food Strategy report, an independent review of the UK’s food system.

In particular, the taskforce calls for:

  • Expanding free school meals to every child from a household on universal credit or equivalent, reaching an additional 1.5million 7-16 year olds
  • Expanding the holiday provision (food and activities) to support all children on free school meals, reaching an additional 1.1million children
  • Increasing the value of the Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 per week (from £3.10) and expanding into all those on Universal Credit or equivalent, reaching an additional 290,000 pregnant women and children under the age of 4.

A number of supermarkets have expressed support for the campaign, including the Co-op Group, which was one of the first organisations to back the call, the Central England Co-operative and employee owned Waitrose and Partners.

Marcus Rashford plays for Manchester United and England

Mr Rashford said: “As a sportsman, I have always found such power in unity and teamwork, and I’m thrilled that such influential voices, such as Co-op, have put any allegiance aside to join me on my mission to move the conversation of child food insecurity forward. 4.2 million children are currently living in poverty in the UK and this is expected to rise; the Task Force stand in solidarity to offer these vulnerable children the platform they need to have their voices heard. I encourage everyone to stop and listen.

“The time for action is now. I’m proud and I’m humbled to see such a reaction and commitment from the food industry, and I am confident that together we can help change the lives of those most at risk for the better.”

Jo Whitfield, CEO of the Group’s food division, added: “It’s heart-breaking to think of children in the UK going hungry and we are determined to do everything we can to support those who are most vulnerable in the communities we serve.

“We’ve worked with Marcus before and seen the amazing dedication he gives to the serious issue of food insecurity, which, as a local community retailer, Co-op also has an important role in supporting. Along with our customers and members we’ve donated millions of pounds and provided emergency food support to enable over five million meals to be shared during the pandemic. We have already committed our support to increase the Healthy Start scheme, but much more is needed for a longer- term, sustainable solution.

“We’re delighted to be able to join Marcus and the other taskforce members for this important campaign where a little co-operation by many, can make a big difference to support those who are struggling. We’re focused and unwavering in our support to co-operate and to get food to those in our communities who are most in need.”

In June Mr Rashford starred in the Co-op Group’s television advert, helping to raise funds for the food charity FareShare, who is also part of the new taskforce.

The 22-year old footballer has been actively campaigning to end child food poverty. Earlier in the year he campaigned to extend free school meals over the summer, which resulted in a government U-turn on the issue.

The Co-op is the largest corporate sponsor of academy schools in England through the Co-op Academies Trust, which runs 25 schools, providing primary and secondary education for over 15,000 kids in some of the most deprived areas of north of England. The retailer continued to fund and provide free schools meal vouchers for all qualifying pupils, including during the Easter and Summer school holidays, making this pledge ahead of the Government announcing anything similar for other state schools.

The Central England Co-operative has also worked with over 65 food bank partners to collect vital items to ensure children do not go hungry over the summer holiday. So far, over 100,000 items have been donated and used by food banks to create 30,000 meals – with more expected as the campaign runs until the end of the month.

Debbie Robinson, Central England Co-operative chief executive, said: “We have now been working with our food bank partners to try and combat holiday hunger for many years, yet we continue to see demand for food bank support spike as what they now offer has sadly become a permanent solution rather than an emergency response.

“We all want to get to a point where we do not have to rely on the generosity of our members and customers to ensure children do not go hungry every single summer and this is why are delighted to join the Marcus Rashford Child Food Poverty Task Force and back calls for the Government to urgently address this problem and put an end to holiday hunger. Free school meals and vouchers are great but not enough.”

The East of England Co-op, which has also joined the taskforce, is calling for government to increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers from £3.10 to £4.25. The society announced that, as of 21 September 2020, they will fund the £1.15 balance thereby increasing the value of the Healthy Start vouchers redeemed in their stores to £4.25, funding the £1.15 difference per transaction themselves, until the government takes action to increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 for all.

“Little steps make huge differences to so many in need. Proud to see another Task Force member take it upon themselves to cover some of the deficit felt by families across the UK,” said Mr Rashford.

Roger Grosvenor, joint chief executive for the East of England Co-op, added: “We believe that all children should  have access to good food, supporting not only their nutritional and mental health but also providing them with the energy they need to learn effectively.

“We’re very proud to be a part of the Child Food Poverty Taskforce, and wholeheartedly back the campaign to increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers. We feel it is such an important issue , that we’ve taken the decision to fund the additional £1.15 ourselves, allowing customers who shop with a Healthy Start voucher to purchase products up to the value of £4.25.

“Retailers, businesses and individuals, like Marcus, are stepping up and doing their bit. What we need now is government to take notice, listen and do the right thing for these children and their families.”

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