Photo by Creative Art from Pikwizard
Nikol Nikolova reports on footballer’s campaign for free school meals and UK government response to food insecurity
Access to sufficient nutritious food is a basic human right. But, with the Covid-19 pandemic taking its toll on the economy and with millions of jobs being lost, an increasing number of families are facing extreme economic pressures. Parents and their children across the country are facing food insecurity.
In the UK, an analysis by The Food Foundation, a charity whose vision is a sustainable food system delivering health and well-being for all, shows the enormous demand for free school meals during this autumn. Their research reveals that 29% of children between the ages of eight and 17 are on free school meals, and 42% of them are newly registered.
A friend of mine living in north London, shares her families experience; “My younger sister had free school meals during years 1 and 2. It made a big difference to our food budget, especially with my dad out of work at the time.”
The importance of the scheme is indisputable; establishing healthy eating habits and access to nutritious meals every day is inextricably linked to good physical and mental health. A balanced diet and regular exercise can improve young people’s wellbeing, growth and brain development, as well as help to prevent a wide range of illnesses in the long term.
Marcus Rashford, food-poverty campaigner and international footballer. Rashford above at FIFA World Cup 2018
I don’t have the education of a politician but I have a social education having lived through this. These children matter. These children are the future of our country
Since March 2020, 23-year-old Marcus Rashford, England international footballer, has been working with FareShare, a charity tackling hunger and food waste, in their campaign to End Child Food Poverty. He has also proposed the extension of the free school meals scheme over school holidays. As a child, Rashford himself received free school meals.
“I don’t have the education of a politician… but I have a social education having lived through this and having spent time with the families and children most affected. These children matter. These children are the future of our country,” Rashford states.
His online petition to #EndChildFoodPoverty is one of only five parliamentary petitions to attract over a million signatures. However, initially the UK parliament voted against Rashford’s plea for free school meals to be extended over the holidays.
Bassetlaw MP, Brendan Clarke-Smith questioned, “Where is the slick PR campaign encouraging absent parents to take some responsibility for their children?”
It appears that, for Mr Clarke-Smith, to feed children in need is also to “nationalise them”. The fact that helping disadvantaged children during a pandemic is even up for debate reveals much about the failures of our current system.
With multiple MPs, charities and businesses lining up to support Rashford, the Prime Minister personally phoned the football star recently, to let him know that the government had reversed its decision not to offer free school meals during the holidays. The government is now set to provide £170 million of extra funding which will be used for the Covid Winter Grant Scheme.
I am fully committed to this cause, I will fight for the rest of my life for it, because in my mind, no child should ever go hungry in the UK
The pandemic and lockdown is already problematic enough with the Mental Health Foundation reporting an increase in depression and anxiety amongst young people.
Data published in July 2020 by The National Food Strategy shows that children ate larger amounts of junk food and fewer portions of fruits and vegetables during lockdown, and this issue was even greater among children from poorer families. Free school meals provide children with the necessary nutrients and energy to maintain healthy growth and development.
“I am fully committed to this cause, and I will fight for the rest of my life for it, because in my mind, no child should ever go hungry in the United Kingdom.” Rashford proclaims.
Exposure is currently working in partnership with social enterprise BreadnButter, to improve the well-being of young people during the pandemic. BreadnButter is establishing an emergency food hub for Barnet and Edmonton, producing and distributing free Meal Kits. With support from Exposure, they have launched an accompanying YouTube channel – run by local youth – showing how to make the meals.
Help end child food poverty – no child should be going hungry.
Sign this petition. Thank you!