Kerry McCarthy Labour MP for Bristol East
Kerry writes for the Fishponds Voice, 6th July 2020.
“This is not about politics; this is about humanity.”
That’s what Manchester United star Marcus Rashford wrote in his letter to MPs, asking them to back his campaign to convince the Government to reverse its decision not to fund free school meals over the summer holiday. The experiences he described, of how his mother struggled to make ends meet and how he would turn up at his friends’ houses in the hope of being fed, resonated across the country. There are far too many other young kids like Marcus out there.
His campaign – and the breadth and depth of support it gathered – obviously shook Number 10 out of their complacent stupor on this issue, and soon the Prime Minister announced that the Government had indeed, u-turned on their decision not to feed children eligible for free school meals over the holidays. This was welcome news, but there is still much more that needs to be done to tackle the underlying causes of food poverty.
Last year, I was one of the MPs who served on the Children’s Future Food Inquiry, and we heard devastating accounts from children, not just about raw and real hunger, but about living on leftovers, scraps or cheap food, with little to no nutritional value. It is shameful – and entirely unnecessary – that this is happening in one of the richest countries in the world. For far too many children, their free school meal is the only decent meal they get.
In Bristol, we will once again be running our Healthy Holidays scheme this year – but we will be doing it without any Government support. Bristol has the highest number of children claiming free school meals in the South West, but this year and last the Government has turned down our applications for funding to address holiday hunger. In 2019, working with Feeding Bristol and the local business community, Bristol City Council raised enough money to support around half of the children eligible for free school meals through the summer holidays. But inevitably, some children missed out and went hungry.
We know that COVID-19 has made many more families financially vulnerable and those who were already vulnerable even more so. But this is not, as Boris Johnson would have it, just about this summer and coping with the fallout from the pandemic. Families have been attending food banks in record numbers since the economically illiterate, morally bankrupt policy of austerity was adopted a decade ago. The Government has consistently refused to acknowledge the sheer scale of the problem, to engage with those working on the front line or to address the underlying causes of food poverty. Boris Johnson and his Cabinet need to confront the reality of the situation their Party has created, where, in one of the richest countries in the world, kids go to bed hungry every night because their families cannot afford food.
It should not take a famous footballer speaking about his experience as a child to show just how wrong this is.
Read the full copy of the Fishponds Voice, July 2020 here.