Dame Emma Thompson leads young people in food poverty campaign win

The actor is an ambassador for the Children’s Right2Food Campaign which has inspired several recommendations in the National Food Strategy – England’s biggest food policy shake-up in 75 years

Dame Emma Thompson has become the latest celebrity to toast success in the fight against childhood food poverty after campaigners praised the National Food Strategy for treating children’s health as a priority.

Dame Emma has been a long-time ambassador for the Children’s Right2Food Campaign, supporting 20 Young Food Ambassadors in their bid to deliver a Right2Food Charter which will ensure that no child goes hungry in England.

Much like Big Issue cover star Marcus Rashford’s incredible campaigning work on school meal vouchers earlier this summer, Dame Emma is celebrating success after the first major review of the UK’s food policy in nearly 75 years adopted several recommendations from the charter.

We have been campaigning for this day for over two years and it feels that finally we are being listened to

Restauranteur Henry Dimbleby’s first part of his National Food Strategy features urgent calls to identify the poorest children at risk of being “left behind” following the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. He also insists that the nation’s diet is a “slow-moving disaster” and “medical emergency” requiring immediate action, echoing the Government’s anti-obesity strategy, revealed this week, that takes aim at junk food ads and sweets sold at checkouts.

The National Food Strategy recommends that free school meals (FSM) are expanded to include to every child from a household on Universal Credit or equivalent benefits as well as increasing the rollout of holiday activity and food programmes to all areas in England. The summer support should also expand to all children in receipt of FSM.

Dimbleby also calls for a 12-month extension of the ‘Food to the Vulnerable’ ministerial taskforce and for Healthy Start vouchers to be increased to £4.25 per week for pregnant women and households with children under four where parents receive Universal Credit or benefits.

All these recommendations also featured in the Right2Food Charter, leading to celebrations for food poverty-battling campaigners.

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Lindsay Graham, a Children’s Right2Food Campaigner who also helped The Big Issue with our own holiday hunger campaign last year, said: “I am delighted to see that the work and campaigning of the Young Food Ambassadors is being valued and considered within the National Food Strategy being launched today. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child it is vital that children are heard and their rights to food, health and education are respected.

“Today we are seeing real progress and I hope that Government moves quickly to make sure that children and young people in every part of England regardless of income have access to a healthy and affordable diet.”

For over two years, the Campaign’s 20 Young Food Ambassadors have been calling on Government action to deliver their Right2Food Charter as an outcome from the Children’s Future Food Inquiry supported by the Campaign’s Ambassador Dame Emma. The Young Food Ambassadors have also launched a Right2Food podcast series which captures young people’s experiences across the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic and highlights how many have had difficulty accessing food.

Dev Sharman, 15, a Young Food Ambassador from Leicester, said: “It’s a huge win for us to see such an important strategy prioritise children’s Right2Food. We have been campaigning for this day for over two years and it feels that finally we are being listened to. We now want to see this happen for real and for Government to roll out the proposals as soon as possible. The poorest children in the UK are going hungry every day and this has to stop.”

As well as highlighting the role that diet has on determining children’s life chances, the report also reveals that poor diets are responsible for one in seven deaths in the UK (90,000 a year), more than traffic accidents and almost as much as smoking, and increase the susceptibility to Covid-19.

A poor diet is often a consequence of inequality in our society with Food Foundation figures showing that 12 per cent of adults are worried about not being able to feed their children over the summer holidays and 28 per cent report that children have been eating less healthily since lockdown began.

“Henry Dimbleby’s trailblazing report is a game changer and really highlights the importance of prioritising children’s health especially for the most vulnerable and poorest in society,” said Jo Ralling, head of youth engagement and communications at the Food Foundation. “If the UK is to lead the way globally, it is vitally important that we change our food system to tackle inequality to ensure every child has access to a diet on which they can thrive. We now need Government to act quickly and incorporate these recommendations into the Autumn Spending Review, so we can start to improve the future of our children and the planet.”

Image: Food Foundation