Marcus Rashford has vowed to keep fighting to give vulnerable children “a voice” after MPs voted against a measure to extend free school meals over the holidays.
The Manchester United and England star told politicians to “stop stigmatising, judging and pointing fingers” as he warned a “significant number” of children will go to bed hungry and “feeling like they do not matter” because of comments on Wednesday.
The England forward – who was awarded an MBE for his work in tackling child poverty during the coronavirus pandemic – called on people to “unite” to protect the most vulnerable children, adding: “For as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine.”
Rashford released a statement after Labour’s motion, which called for the scheme to be extended over school holidays until Easter 2021, was defeated by 261 votes to 322 – majority 61.
Five Conservative MPs rebelled to support the motion, including Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon, but it was not enough.
The division list showed the other four were Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne), Jason McCartney (Colne Valley), Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) and Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe).
Downing Street ruled out performing a late U-turn ahead of the vote, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson telling MPs that support will continue for children on low incomes.
“We will continue to use the benefits system and all the systems of income to support children throughout the holidays as well,” he added.
Reacting to the vote, Rashford said: “Put aside all the noise, the digs, the party politics and let’s focus on the reality.
“A significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today.
“We must stop stigmatising, judging and pointing fingers. Our views are being clouded by political affiliation.
“This is not politics, this is humanity.”
Rashford added that child food poverty “has the potential to become the greatest pandemic the country has ever faced”.
He said: “We must start working together and unite to protect our most vulnerable children. No more sticking plasters. Let’s face this head on.”
Rashford continued: “I don’t have the education of a politician, many on Twitter have made that clear today, but I have a social education having lived through this and having spent time with the families and children most affected.
“These children matter. These children are the future of this country. They are not just another statistic. And for as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine. You have my word on that.”
Additional reporting by PA.