No child should go hungry in this crisis for want of school meals | Society

It’s difficult to accept, and for some even difficult to believe, that there are still children going hungry in this rich and largely competent nation. But there are millions.

It is over a year since I met some extraordinarily brave and articulate young people who are Young Food Ambassadors for the Children’s #Right2Food Campaign. They have all experienced harsh difficulty gaining access to food and told me what a debilitating experience it is.

It damages their growth and ability to learn. It brings the kind of anxiety and stress that can trigger mental-health issues. It creates an unshakeable sense of hopelessness, and it’s deeply stigmatising. I think that’s one of the worst things about it – they told me that often they won’t go out with friends to grab a coffee, for there’s no money for luxuries like that – and some are carers for parents who are unable to work or provide for them. The pressures they had all endured were unimaginable in a modern world, and yet there they were, presented in the most intelligent and un-self-pitying way by these impressively resilient young people.

In April 2019 I went with those Young Food Ambassadors to 10 Downing Street, where we delivered the findings of a national inquiry into children’s food insecurity in the UK. The project worked to understand the problem by listening directly and carefully to young people facing poverty about what it’s like to live below the breadline, how it feels to go to school hungry, and what adults can learn from children’s lived experience of deprivation. Teachers, carers, doctors, youth workers and hundreds of children backed the campaign’s recommendations that the government should establish an independent children’s food watchdog. I sat with the minister and many of his aides while the young people told of their hardships, and they all made many welcome noises of sympathy and respect.

A full year later we have yet to have an official response.

Today everything has got worse. The Food Foundation are releasing data on Monday that reports that the number of households with children experiencing severe poverty and isolation-driven food insecurity has doubled since lockdown begun.

Families who were fighting to put food on the table before Covid-19 now find themselves in an impossible position: just a month of lockdown has seen millions of parents and children experience food insecurity. Children who usually rely on free school meals for sustenance have received no substitute meals at all, and a further 130,000 are stuck with an online code they can’t download in order to buy food. It’s no wonder, then, that food banks have seen demand from households with children increase by a horrifying 121%.

We’ve all been hearing a lot about humane societal values and moral duty recently. So why are we able to live with the fact that millions of children still go hungry every day? We all need to take responsibility and fight against the inequality which forces so many parents into poverty and struggling to pay the bills.

What is undeniable is that our government has yet to extend real lifelines to those who cannot afford food. We need emergency income support to put money in the pockets of families who are suffering, and the Department for Work and Pensions must ensure child benefit payments are increased and sufficient for alleviating the hardship so many children are enduring.

There are solutions, and there are things that we can do to alleviate our children’s suffering. The fact is that this crisis is making it impossible to ignore the flaws in our system. It is creating an imperative for change. There’s no more time for empty promises. It’s unacceptable that in this country children are going without.

Today, once again, we are calling on the government to do everything possible to help the most vulnerable families, now and in the future. We hope and trust that our demands do not – once again – fall on deaf ears.

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