George The Poet: Free school meals debate sounds like it is from Victorian era

Tom Horton, PA
·3-min read

The debate over the Government’s provision of free school meals sounds like it is from Victorian times, according to George The Poet.

The spoken word artist, whose real name is George Mpanga, added that it is “weird” that the cause had to be taken up by footballer Marcus Rashford before it became an issue that is widely discussed.

The Manchester United player has been campaigning for pupils who normally receive free meals during term time to be fed for no charge during school holidays.

Manchester United v Chelsea – Premier League – Old Trafford
Marcus Rashford (Michael Regan/PA)

Mpanga told the PA news agency: “It’s weird that we are having conversations that sound like they are from the Victorian era in 2020.

“It is weird that Marcus Rashford, as much as I love and respect what he’s about and what he’s chosen to represent, it is weird that it falls on his shoulders, or he’s had to take up the mantle.”

The Government is under pressure to reverse its decision not to extend the benefit to the holidays and Rashford has been using social media to publicise businesses and councils across the country who have pledged to feed children during the school break.

Mpanga added: “This guy is younger than everyone in Parliament, in the Cabinet obviously, in Government, and it is not even his domain.

“It is not like he was trained to stand for this.”

He said the “personal respect and reverence I have for him is separate from my recognition that this is indicative of an insufficient way of doing things”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised on Monday to do “everything in our power” to tackle holiday hunger among children.

Mpanga also discussed the lasting impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that black people have been able to “expand our conversations”.

He added: “It is not like we made one point and we can now move on.

“We have actually just cleared our throat and now what we say next is more important than ever.”

During Black History Month, which runs throughout October, Mpanga has shared examples of his work being studied in schools as they mark the annual event.

He described it as the “highest honour”.

“Obviously I publicly declined an MBE last year and as much as I appreciate the gesture, the word empire was problematic for me,” he said.

“There’s such a thing as an honour you can get from people, from the children, from the teachers, from the parents – that’s the kind of honour that I really take to heart.”

This week Mpanga will appear in a YouTube Music livestreamed event titled Black Lives Still Matter.

The show, which will feature performances from poet Sophia Thakur and rapper Jords, will also marks 10 years of Mpanga performing as George The Poet.

It will be broadcast on the video-sharing platform at 8pm on Thursday.