Kerry writes for the Fishponds Voice, 28 October 2020
OVER a quarter of children in Bristol East constituency live in poverty. Some research even indicates that, after housing costs, the figure is as high as 30%.
This is part of a wider and equally worrying picture, of over a million children in the UK experiencing food poverty.
We all know that healthy and nutritious food is crucial to a child’s well-being and development. Yet with COVID-19 putting immense economic pressure on families, these statistics only stand to worsen, with many families struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table.
Manchester United and England star Marcus Rashford has already earned an MBE for his amazing work on food poverty. Now, he’s launched a petition in collaboration with the Food Foundation which calls on the Government to implement three recommendations from the National Food Strategy to ensure no child goes hungry.
These recommendations are: to expand eligibility for the Free School Meal scheme to include every child up to the age of 16 from a household where the parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit (or equivalent benefits); to extend the Holiday Activity and Food Programme to all areas in England, so that summer holiday support is available to all children in receipt of Free School Meals; and to increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 a week, while also expanding the scheme to every pregnant woman, as well as all households with children under 4, where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefits.
Of course, I fully support the petition. School holidays can be really challenging for families living in poverty and, over the summer, 18% of 8 to 17 year olds reported experiences of food insecurity. Locally we are very fortunate to have organisations like Feeding Bristol, which did a fantastic job last year with its Holiday Hunger scheme, and this year, in very different circumstances, helping those who were struggling to feed their families because of COVID-19.
It was thanks to campaigning by Marcus Rashford that the Government was forced to U-turn and fund Free School Meals this summer. 300,000 people signed his new petition in only the first few days, and at a Labour-led Opposition Day debate in Parliament, many MPs spoke in support. At the time of writing, however, the Government is still stubbornly opposed. Indeed, Tory minister Paul Scully shocked many with his response to criticism, saying “children have been going hungry for years”.
Unlike the minister, I think it’s simply unacceptable in this day and age that children should be going hungry. If you agree, you can support Marcus’ petition here:petition.parliament.uk/petitions/554276.