Striker fights on for free school meals

Role model: Marcus Rashford and his mother, Melanie, who made his success possible. © Getty

Is Marcus Rashford an exception or an inspiration? The Premier League striker grew up poor and hungry, but is now using his fame to fight for children going hungry during the lockdown.

He has it all. In five years of professional football, Marcus Rashford has scored a staggering 74 goals for Manchester United and England. He takes home £200,000 a week, owns a £2m mansion in Cheshire, and drives a fleet of flashy cars. He is beloved by fans and touted as a future United captain. And he’s still only 22. He is living the dream.

But Rashford has not forgotten his roots. In a heartfelt letter to members of Parliament, he has written about his childhood in Wythenshawe, relying on breakfast clubs, free school meals, food banks, and soup kitchens.

He thanks his mum, a single parent, who “worked full-time, earning minimum wage to make sure we always had a good evening meal on the table”. Without her struggle and sacrifice, he says, “there wouldn’t be the Marcus Rashford you see today”.

It’s one of the most popular stories ever told: the tale of rags to riches. The poor kid who finds money and fame. From Cinderella to the X-Factor, from Dick Whittington to Jay Z – it is in our society’s DNA. It appeals to our sense of fairness and justice. It doesn’t matter where you start in life, if you work hard and follow your dreams, you will succeed.

Except, Rashford writes, that hard work “was not enough. The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked”. He argues that society is not fair and that the barriers to success are higher for poor families and children from ethnic minorities.

The latest research backs him up. “Persistent racism” and “virtually stagnant” social mobility is preventing millions from achieving their potential.

Rashford describes himself as “a 22-year-old black man lucky enough to make a career playing a game I love”. But is he the lucky exception or an inspirational role model?

Of course, he’s a bit of both. But regardless of how he achieved his dreams, many are being inspired by his compassion.

As the Covid-19 epidemic hit, his thoughts were of the 1.3m children in England on free school meals. With schools closed, he raised £20m to provide three million meals. And now he has used his public platform to ask the government to “protect the vulnerable” and help the estimated 200,000 children going hungry in England.

So, is Marcus Rashford an exception or an inspiration?

Rags to riches

Some say he is an inspiration, in so many ways. No one ever said life was easy and it takes great sacrifices and incredible determination to be successful. His story is remarkable, but it shows that, regardless of where you start in life, you should always aim high and dream big. He also shows that you should never lose sight of where you came from and who helped you along the way.

Others say his story is exceptional and that should make us as angry as he is. It shows that hard work is never enough, especially if you are born poor and from an ethnic minority. How can you aim for the sky, when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from? As Rashford says, “This is England in 2020” – and it is unacceptable.

You Decide

  1. What would your dream job look like?
  2. Which is more important for success: hard work or a supportive family and community?

Activities

  1. Draw a picture of your life, aged 22. Where will you live? What will you be doing? Dream big and imagine your best future.
  2. Use Marcus Rashford’s letter (in the Expert Links) for inspiration, and write a letter to your local MP about a cause you feel passionate about.

Some People Say...

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

Hélder Câmara (1909-1999), Brazilian Archbishop

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
For most of human history, societies have been unequal, with rigid social hierarchies. For example, if you were born a peasant in medieval feudal England, you would also expect to die a peasant. So, modern society is quite unusual in that we believe no one should be poor and everyone should have the chance to be better off and successful. However, these values of equality and opportunity are often at odds with the inequality and discrimination we see around us.
What do we not know?
Rashford says, “This is not about politics; this is about humanity.” However, this is probably one of the most fundamental political debates that exist: the argument between personal and social responsibility. Is success the result of personal determination and hard work, or the consequence of the kindness and generosity of family, community, and society? Is poverty the consequence of personal failing or social disadvantage?

Word Watch

Wythenshawe
An area of south Manchester, England. At one time, it had the largest council estate in Europe.
Free school meals
The government is facing widespread criticism and possible legal action for refusing to extend the food voucher scheme into the summer holidays.
Cinderella
The American writer Kurt Vonnegut described it as “the most popular story in our civilisation”, and drew a graph to explain why. See the Expert Links to find out more.
Dick Whittington
The pantomime story of the poverty-stricken boy, who goes to London to make his fortune, is based on medieval Lord Mayor of London, Richard Whittington (1354–1423). The real Whittington did not come from poverty – but that wouldn’t make such a good story.
Jay Z
Shawn Corey Carter grew up in the Marcy Projects, one of the most deprived parts of New York City. He is now one of the most successful music artists of all time.
Persistent racism
A major new study carried out by the National Centre for Social Research has tracked 70,000 people from the 1970s through to the 2000s. It shows ethnic minorities are far less socially mobile than their white counterparts.
Social mobility
The government’s own commission reported last year: “Being born privileged means you are likely to remain privileged. But being born disadvantaged means you may have to overcome a series of barriers to ensure you and your children are not stuck in the same trap.”
Compassion
Marcus Rashford has also frequently spoken out against racism, helped deliver food parcels to the homeless community in Manchester, and visited children injured in the 2017 Manchester terrorist attack.

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