England star Marcus Rashford has urged medics to help get families in need signed up to a food voucher scheme.
The footballer says he is concerned that more than 40% of those eligible for the Healthy Start initiative are still not registered.
Now the Manchester United striker and anti-hunger campaigner says numbers could be ‘plateauing’ for the Government-backed scheme, which he praised for helping thousands after widespread efforts last year.
In an open letter to health professionals, published in the BMJ, he said: ‘Since November 2020, members of the Child Food Poverty Taskforce have used their channels and platforms to communicate about the Healthy Start scheme and to tell people how to access it, with the hope that we will be able to reach the majority of those most in need.
‘While we have seen 57,000 more parents benefit from the scheme as a result, I’m concerned we are plateauing.
‘More than 40% of those eligible for the vouchers are still not registered for the scheme, and I’m confident that the majority of these parents can be found in communities just like mine, where I grew up — no internet, no high street, no word of mouth.’
Rashford waged a high-profile campaign last year to persuade the Government to broaden free school meals to vulnerable youngsters in England throughout the school holidays during the Covid crisis and forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson into a major U-turn.
The 23-year-old has continued to speak out about issues like child poverty and literacy, drawing on his own experiences growing up.
He has won widespread praise for his campaign – and, after facing racist abuse following a penalty miss in England’s Euro 2020 final with Italy – an outpouring of love from Manchester and across the country.
Rashford has backed a number of child food poverty incentives and became the youngest person to top the Sunday Times Giving List by raising £20 million in donations from supermarkets for groups tackling child poverty.
One of his latest initiatives, launched erlier this year, was with Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge, which the footballer said he hoped could help remove the kind of ‘embarrassment’ his mother had felt when using food banks.
He described the stigma attached to programmes such as Healthy Start vouchers as ‘the most silly thing I’ve ever heard’.
In his letter in the BMJ, Rashford said more awareness is needed to ensure all those who are entitled to be part of the scheme are made aware of their eligibility.
He wrote: ‘Healthcare professionals are in a position to highlight the Healthy Start scheme to eligible parents, and I would very much appreciate it if you would consider collaborating with us on communicating and educating people about the scheme when possible.’
The striker told healthcare professionals ‘we need you’ and asked them to use an online eligibility calculator to determine who is entitled to the scheme and ensure people do not miss out.
He added: ‘Help us reach those most in need in our communities.’
Labour’s Wes Streeting, shadow child poverty secretary, said: ‘More and more children are living in poverty under the Tories. With no Government strategy for lifting children out of poverty, once again we see Marcus Rashford having to do the Government’s work for them.’
People can check if they are eligible for the scheme by clicking here.
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