Thanks to Marcus Rashford’s exceptional campaigning work, a long-awaited debate on child food poverty will take place this afternoon. With figures published last week by the End Child Poverty coalition putting the pre-pandemic figure for children living in poverty in the UK at 4.3 million, this debate couldn’t be more urgent.
Recent Trussell Trust data found that nearly a million of the 2.5 million emergency food parcels distributed by their network in the last year went to children. Independent food banks have also seen a particular increase in need for emergency food parcels from families in the last year.
The petition behind today’s debate, signed by more than 1.1 million people, focussed on three key asks two of which have already been taken on board by the government – providing holiday meals and activities and increasing the value and reach of Healthy Start vouchers. The third ask, expanding eligibility to free school meals to all families on universal credit, remains elusive.
These three measures, based on National Food Strategy recommendations, can and will mitigate against the effects of child food poverty. But we need to focus on the fact that there is no chance they will end it. This afternoon’s debate presents MPs with a critical opportunity to turn the spotlight on actions to address the root causes of child food poverty and put an end to it for good.
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Part of the solution to escalating child food poverty is to look at the bigger picture. Disaggregating child food poverty, just like period poverty, fuel poverty or furniture poverty, might compartmentalise the problem but it’s impossible to stop children from going hungry if we don’t address the key driver involved – poverty. Children facing hunger live with millions of parents and guardians struggling to afford to buy food because of insufficient social security payments, job insecurity and inadequate wages. If we want to end child food poverty, we need to do much more than advocate for food-based interventions that will only help fill the gap. We need a joined-up cash first approach to food insecurity.