It is an absolute disgrace that children are still left hungry in this country. We can do a lot better and the Government needs to be held to account for their failure to address this issue.
Firstly I want to pay tribute to the vital work of Marcus Rashford and campaigners for shining a light on this hugely important issue. Poverty wastes potential and harms our country’s success and prosperity. More important still, it hurts children, not just in the future, but as they grow up. It harms their health and damages their sense of self-esteem and wellbeing.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were over four million children growing up in poverty. Child poverty is a pandemic of its own. I believe it is due time for the Government to recognise the scale of the challenge in tackling child food poverty and take action to support families.
In June 2020, following extensive pressure from within Parliament, campaigners and Marcus Rashford, the Government launched the Covid Summer Food Fund which enabled children who were eligible for benefits-related free school meals to be supported over the summer holiday period last year.
However, this year, the Government refused to fully extend free school meals during the summer holidays, with funding for the Holiday Activities and Food programme only covering four weeks. Feeding hungry children cannot be a part-time activity, yet the support that millions of families rely on is being stripped away.
It is vital that we ensure no child goes hungry. That is why I believe free school meals should be extended over the school holidays for the duration of the pandemic, including the summer holidays. To ensure that children get the support they need, and to avoid a repeat of the issue of unacceptable food parcels initially provided under the policy of food vouchers, this support should be offered via direct cash transfers to parents.
I am aware the National Food Strategy report recommended that eligibility for free school meals should be expanded. The Government has advised that it will consider the recommendations in the report. However, it says it has no current plans to change eligibility for the Healthy Start voucher scheme with regard to the earnings threshold or the qualifying age range.
Therefore I have written to the Secretary of State on your behalf to get answers for why the Government is failing children across the country, and to press them to ensure that free school meals are extended. Please see my letter below: