Marcus Rashford MBE, Manchester United and England footballer, has launched a campaign encouraging people across the UK to write to their MP in support of three recommendations in Henry Dimbleby’s report, The National Food Strategy, to help end food insecurity for children. Marcus is asking members of the public to visit the website www.endchildfoodpoverty.org to write to their MP, ahead of the Government Spending Review, expected in October.
New data, commissioned by The Food Foundation, from YouGov shows that more UK households with children are now experiencing food insecurity than were in the first wave of the pandemic. Furthermore, 15% have experienced food insecurity in the past six months. These levels are approximately 27% higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, food prices have been consistently higher in the first six months of this year than they were towards the end of 2020.
The three recommendations from the National Food Strategy that Marcus is supporting will guarantee that every child at risk of going hungry eats some good food every day:
Working with Marcus on the campaign, The Food Foundation believes that current record highs in food insecurity can be reduced by ensuring families have the financial means – whether directly through paid employment or from benefit payments – to purchase sufficient food. Government schemes such as Free School Meals and Healthy Start also help to guarantee some basic nutrition protection for children when they are growing and learning.
The current system for free school meals is unfair and represents a postcode lottery. In England, only children from households earning less than £7,400 (before benefits and after tax), qualify for Free School Meals (FSM) for Year 3 and above. But in Scotland all children in primary school will soon be getting FSMs although in secondary schools the eligibility threshold is the same as in England. While, In Northern Ireland all children in households earning less than £14,000, before benefits and after tax, get FSM. And finally, in Wales, the threshold is the same as for England but there is no Universal Free School Meals for those below Year 3.
The very low threshold in England means that half of children who are from food insecure households are excluded from free school meals because their families earn just above £7,400 – that’s around 350,000 children.
YouGov research from August shows that 80% of adults in England say they would support the expansion of Free School Meal eligibility to all children experiencing food poverty.
Marcus Rashford said:
“While we’ve come a long way in the last 20 months, [and have placed] the issue of child food poverty at the forefront, devastatingly, the issue is getting worse, not better. What is it going to take for these children to be prioritised? Instead of removing support through social security, we should be focusing efforts on developing a sustainable long-term roadmap out of this child hunger pandemic. It will take many of us to stand together on this, and show we care about reaching those most in need in our communities.”