New data from The Food Foundation shows that more households with children (in the UK aged 17 and under) are experiencing food insecurity than in the first wave of the pandemic. The situation is set to worsen with the £20 cut in universal credit due at end of September and food prices higher now than at the end of 2020.
Rashford, England footballer and child food poverty campaigner, said: “Whilst we’ve come a long way in the last 20 months, placing the issue of child food poverty at the forefront, devastatingly, the issue is getting worse not better. You can fill 27 Wembley stadiums with the 2.5 million children that are struggling to know where their next meal might be coming from today.
“What is it going to take for these children to be prioritised? Instead of removing support through social security, we should be focusing efforts on developing a sustainable long-term roadmap out of this child hunger pandemic.
“It will take many of us to stand together on this, and show we care about reaching those most in need in our communities.”
The three recommendations from the National Food Strategy, include:
- Expand Free School Meal eligibility to all children aged 7-18 in all households earning £20,000 or less after benefits, and to children that are undocumented or living in households with the NRPF immigration condition.
- Provide long-term funding for the Holiday Activities and Food Programme, increasing eligibility in line with Free School Meal expansion.
- Expand Healthy Start eligibility to all households earning £20,000 or less after benefits with pregnant women or children under five and invest in a communications campaign to increase awareness and uptake of the scheme.
Rashford has called on the public to write to their MPs via his #EndChildFoodPoverty website. He is calling on the Government to urgently support the recommendations and include the funds needed in the Spending Review expected in October.
Anna Taylor, executive director of Food Foundation, added: “It’s extremely distressing that now even more children lack a secure, nutritious diet compared with last year. Despite a sense of ‘normality’ returning, this is no time for complacency – we can’t sit back and allow this damage to our children’s health, learning and life chances, not to mention the heavy burden it bears on our NHS.
“We know children from deprived backgrounds have higher obesity rates, worse levels of diabetes, more tooth decay and even impaired height development compared with their wealthier peers. This will only get worse if left unaddressed and entrench inequalities deeper. So, today, we are asking Government to act appropriately to protect our youngest citizens.
“An investment in the Autumn spending review to expand eligibility for Free School Meals and Healthy Start and commit to long-term funding for the Holiday Activities and Food Programme will guarantee children at risk of hunger some good food every day.”
In England, only children from households earning less than £7,400 (before benefits and after tax), qualify for Free School Meals (Year 3 and above). The low threshold means that half of children who are from food insecure households are excluded from free school meals because their families earn just above £7,400, which is approximately 350,000 children according to Food Foundation calculations.
Less than 2% of packed lunches meet Government guidelines for a healthy and balanced school meal with high levels of foods high in fact, sugar or salt being seen in lunchboxes across the UK.
Young Food Ambassador Asha, commented: “I’m really pleased Marcus and the public are going to help children like me by writing to their MPs. Every young person should do this too and have the chance to make their voices heard #WriteNow.”