It called for the expansion of free school meals to every child from a household on Universal Credit

Manchester United star Marcus Rashford has launched a taskforce with a raft of major supermarkets and suppliers to try to reduce child food poverty.

The move, which follows his successful campaign to extend free school meals this summer, will see retailers and major food companies push the government for spending in the autumn statement to support vulnerable children, whose plight has been made even harder by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Deliveroo, Iceland, Kellogg’s, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose have all joined the taskforce. They have promised to dedicate their social media platforms over the next six weeks to sharing stories of those most affected by child food insecurity in the UK, supported by real-time statistics.

Alongside charities FareShare and the Food Foundation, which have also joined the group, they have written to MPs calling on the government to implement key proposals from the National Food Strategy, published in July by Leon restaurant founder Henry Dimbleby.

It called for the expansion of free school meals to every child from a household on Universal Credit, extending holiday provision to support all children on free school meals and increase the value of the Healthy Start vouchers scheme to £4.25 per week (from £3.10).

“As a sportsman, I have always found such power in unity and teamwork, and I’m thrilled that such influential voices have put any allegiance aside to join me on my mission,” said Rashford. “The taskforce stand together 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.”

Jason Tarry, Tesco UK & ROI CEO, said: “No child should ever go hungry. Many families across the country are going through a very challenging time and are struggling to get the food they need, which is why Tesco stands with Marcus Rashford and this taskforce and supports its objectives to ensure that every child is fed all year round.”

Co-op Food CEO Jo Whitfield said: “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.”

Food Foundation director Anna Taylor said: “We’re delighted to be part of Marcus’ taskforce. We have been working with children and young people over several years to understand how food insecurity affects their lives. It is devastating for their mental and physical health, their education and wellbeing.

“The government must make a decisive step to protect and support disadvantaged children in the autumn Budget and implement the three recommendations in the National Food Strategy. Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on our economy but Marcus has shown how much public support there is for having a decent nutritional safety net in place for our children.”