The struggling mum-of-four who proves why Marcus Rashford was right

This week, Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake said it was parents’ responsibility to feed their children.

His statement left thousands of struggling parents across the country feeling forced to explain – if only it were that simple.

One mum-of-four, who lives in Stockport with her partner and young children, understands that harsh reality more than most.

She has agreed to go by the name of Rachel, but does not want to reveal her real name for the purposes of this story.

During a good month, Rachel and her partner may have just enough money to ensure that all six of them have eaten a meal.

Other times, she confessed she has made herself ill, just to make sure there is food on the table for her children.

For Rachel, the free school meal scheme means she doesn’t have to be scared of her kids going hungry during term time. 

Campaigners feel the reality of living on the breadline is far more complicated than Conservative politicians appreciate
(Image: Birmingham Mail/Darren Quinton)

But, when it comes to the school holidays, the anxiety and uncertainty about where the next plate of food is coming from can be crippling.

“I will have four young children at home in the half-term holidays, meaning I won’t be able to afford to go out and buy more food to do the half-term, as usually they would be having the food in school,” Rachel said.

 “I will need to go food banks, but you still don’t get everything you need. Sometimes I make myself ill just making sure I get food on the table for the kids.

“It was really good having the voucher scheme available as it helped me out a lot, I was never scared that i wouldn’t be able to feed my children. And it made me feel a bit better in myself, instead of thinking what a rubbish mother I am.”

Marcus Rashford visiting FareShare Greater Manchester at New Smithfield Market with his mother Melanie (right) – the food charity is naming a new warehouse in her honour

Earlier this year the government u-turned on providing free school meals to children over the summer holidays, following a campaign from Wythenshawe-raised Manchester United player Marcus Rashford, 22.

With the October half-term approaching, he is campaigning to end food poverty.

He wants to see the government provide free school meals to every child from a household on Universal Credit or equivalent benefit; an increase in the value of Healthy Start vouchers, which offer free milk and produce to pregnant mothers and families with young children, from £3.10 to £4.25; and, thirdly, for all families with children on free school meals get support with food and activities during the holidays.

But this week, 322 Conservative MPs, including representatives of some of the country’s most deprived constituencies, voted against a Labour motion that the scheme be extended over school holidays until Easter 2021.

The government says there is already enough support in place. But Rachel fears she will have to rely on the help of strangers, and community food banks, to feed her family.

She and her partner have found this year particularly difficult as they had to move from Levenshulme after being priced out of the area.

They needed an extra bedroom for her youngest child and, after being refused a council house, have been forced to rent privately.

Video Loading

The family receive Universal Credit which is paid once a month.

After rent they are left with a budget of approximately £700 to pay for bills, the cost of a car which they use for the school run and job-seeking, and food for a family of six.

Things were made even more difficult this month, when Rachel’s landlord decided to sell her flat, forcing Rachel to stump up cash for a deposit on a new property.

Rachel can’t afford to pay for trips out with her children, and has to save up for months just to take them somewhere that costs.

Recently, she had to make the choice between buying her daughter a birthday present, and buying food for the children.

If it wasn’t for the help of a local south Manchester Covid-19 support group, Rachel would have found herself in a very precarious position during lockdown.

“Our team rallied around and managed to get a few donations and got her a doll set and some books from Smyths and people donated banners, balloons and a cake,” said Jen Savaris, who runs the support group.

“The school meals were great for her as it meant she didn’t have to worry about the kids going hungry during the day.”

Rachel has had to move twice in the last year after being priced out of areas in Greater Manchester
(Image: Joel Goodman)

“It was a real help in the summer when the government kept them going throughout the holidays,” Jen added.

“With (Rachel) only getting money monthly, once that money is gone it’s gone and that’s when the panic sets in.

“She has also used food banks when it’s become too much and we have got shopping for her and the children when needed.”

Sadly, stories like Rachel’s are replicated across the city, as thousands of families struggle to make ends meet.

Recent figures show that a third of all children living in Greater Manchester are living in poverty.

Des Lynch
(Image: Daily Mirror)

Research from Loughborough University shows child poverty rates have gone up in all but one of the 10 boroughs in the last four years.

Des Lynch runs Wood Street Mission in Manchester City Centre, which provides help and support to struggling families and individuals.

“In Manchester and Salford, child poverty has never gone away,” she said.

“We’re 151 years-old and we’ve been dealing with it in all of that time. It’s a subject that has never been tackled by any government, let alone the one we have at the moment.

“The issue comes up in manifestos but then it is dispatched into the background.”

Thousands of people like Rachel are forced to use food banks across Greater Manchester to feed their family
(Image: Manchester Evening News)

Rashford, who relied on the help of free school meals and food banks as a child, has vowed to continue the fight to end child food poverty.

“These children matter. These children are the future of this country. They are not just another statistic,” he said on Twitter.

“And for as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine. You have my word on that.”

The south Manchester Covid-19 support group has launched a Christmas appeal asking for donations of money, tins of food or children’s toys.

You can find out more here .

Get breaking news first on the free Manchester Evening News app – download it here for your Apple or Android device. You can also get a round-up of the biggest stories sent direct to your inbox every day with the MEN email newsletter – subscribe here. And you can follow us on Facebook here.

|Ma Evening Post