School’s out for Summer. Parks and swimming pools, beaches and riverbanks will be brimming with children, playing football, tennis, splashing, cycling and scooting about. That’s what summer should be about but for a growing number of school children, holidays are dreaded because all it means for them is a month and a half of hunger pains and misery.
Figures released today by The Trussell Trust, the biggest foodbank network in Britain which runs over 420 food banks across the UK, says that nearly half of children who received support from foodbanks in its network last summer were 5-11 years old. Over a quarter were under 4.
It says demand for emergency parcels for children rose significantly – by more than 4,000 – last July and August.
But whilst the problem is worse for children in the school holidays, food insecurity is a year round problem which has got demonstrably worse since the Tories came to power in 2010.
There are at least 2,000 food banks operating in the UK, giving out emergency food parcels on a weekly basis to people in hardship which reveal the rapid growth of charity food provision in austerity Britain.
The Trussell Trust, recently reported that it gave out a record 1.2m food parcels to families and individuals in need in 2016-17, the ninth successive year in which demand had risen.
What started as an emergency measure has now become the norm.
UN data shows that an estimated 8.4 million people and 3.5 million children – that’s nearly 1 in 4 children, were living in households reporting having insufficient food in the UK in 2014, the 5th largest economy in the world.
For families on a low household income, the additional food that is usually provided by the free school food programme places considerable strain on household food budgets. When fixed bills such as rent and utilities are still due, the food bill is the outgoing that is compromised. This results in 1 in 3 parents missing meals so their children can eat over the school holidays, yet many children are still not being fed.
The cost of food has also gone up by 8% in real terms since 2007 and that is set to rise as inflation is going upwards. And the price of healthy foods has gone up more in the last 10 years than unhealthy foods.
Since entering Parliament, Emma has campaigned against food poverty and insecurity as a founder member of the All-Party Inquiry into Hunger in the UK, a Trustee of Feeding Britain and a former member of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs select committee and a close supporter of the Food Foundation.
Just a few weeks ago, Emma wrote a piece for The Huffington Post on the growing food crisis in our country.
Responding to the figures out today from the Trussell Trust, Emma said:
“What has our society come to when thousands of children are having to seek emergency food from a charity so they don’t starve?
Children should look forward to the Summer holidays, not be worrying about whether they are going to be weak and miserable from hunger.
These figures are a huge indictment on a Government that has deliberately pursued polices that make hunger an inevitability for so many families through their austerity agenda that has hit working families and the systematic erosion of the welfare state and punitive sanctions measures.
Let’s not forget that if Theresa May had got her way in the General Election, free school lunches for primary age children would now be abolished.
The Government refuse to engage on the very serious issue of poverty, hunger obesity and associated malnutrition in the UK and only ever seem to respond by rubbishing the statistics that come out of organisations and charities, without whose intervention, the problem would be a whole lot worse.
Yet the Government themselves refuse to officially measure the scale of problem so they can continue to turn a blind eye to the levels of destitution in our country – a scandal which is very much of their own making and a problem which is only set to get worse every day they remain in power”.
Everyone can help make a difference – a donation to The Trussell Trust’s Summer Appeal will help develop projects like Holiday Clubs, which help foodbanks provide additional support to people and prevent them needing a foodbank in the future, and a food donation to a local foodbank will go to someone referred for emergency help. For more information, please visit www.trusselltrust.org/summer-appeal.
Here is Emma’s speech at a Food Foundation event in Parliament last month:
I’d like to thank Professor Hawkes for her excellent appraisal of this issue. I don’t think anyone listening to those statistics on malnutrition could say that this is not a matter of great urgency.
I’ve worked closely with the Food Foundation since it was established 2 years ago (Happy Birthday by the way) to push the agenda in parliament. I am also a founder member of the All-Party Inquiry into Hunger in the UK, a Trustee of Feeding Britain and a former member of the EFRA select committee where we conducted an inquiry into food sustainability.
It’s safe to say, that food insecurity is an issue I am very much involved in in Parliament and will continue to be involved in because no one should ever have to face the indignity of worrying where their next meal is coming from. Whilst I realise this is a global issue that hits right at the heart of our world, I am going to focus my comments today on domestic issues.
Anyone who is tuned in to what happens outside the walls of this place knows the scale of poverty and hunger, so it has been a constant source of frustration for me that despite my efforts and those of others, that the Government will not even acknowledge there is a problem in the UK.
They won’t even measure food inequality or food poverty let alone formulate policy solutions. In fact, my view is that this Government has actually pursued polices that make hunger an inevitability for so many through their systematic erosion of the welfare state.
The Government continue to make the claim that they are measuring food inequality, citing the living costs and food survey which we all know is not an adequate measure at all.
In a recent Westminster Hall Debate I called on the Government to close the data gap through inserting a short list of questions into an existing annual survey instrument, such as the living costs and food survey or the national health surveys. The marginal cost is estimated to be between £50,000 and £75,000 per year (less than the basic MP salary) a small sum in Treasury terms to address one of the biggest scandals of our time. But Government resistance remains because the truth is that if you collate the data, you then know what the scale of the problem is and then you have to do something about it. If they don’t measure, the problem doesn’t officially exist!
This approach fits in with their attack on the Trussell Trust; when they released numbers of the hungry in the UK Secretaries of State and Ministers tried to discredit the research and say the numbers were misleading.
But for how long can they pursue this deceitful strategy?
A Unicef Report published just last month found that the UK has some of the highest levels of hunger and deprivation out of the world’s richest nations. Moderate or severe food insecurity was found to effect nearly 20% of children under 15 in the UK, significantly higher than the average for developed countries.
I am delighted that my party has listened and is taking this issue seriously. Our manifesto put out some bold policies including a major public health strategy to improve the health and wellbeing of every child in the country to combat health inequalities and end the scandalous link between deprivation and child health.
A Labour Government would introduce a Child Health Bill, setting in law our ambition for the UK’s children to be the healthiest in the world and legally requiring all Government departments to have a child health strategy to set out how they will support this new ambition.
Labour would enshrine the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child into Domestic Law.
And we would introduce a new Index of Child Health, led jointly between Department of Health and Public Health England, to measure progress against international standards and report annually against four key indicators: obesity, dental health, under 5s (including breastfeeding, immunisation and childhood mortality), and mental health. . At the moment there is no standardised data collection on child health indicators with international comparisons, so in order to measure progress we will establish one.
But we have to be in Government to make this happen.
In Opposition, I will continue to push the Government on measurement. I will continue to work with the Food Foundation and others to get a 10 Minute Rule Bill off the ground. And I will not stop until I start seeing some real results in eradicating this scourge because I refuse to accept food poverty and inequality as a normal part of society.
In the meantime thank you all that you do to help the hungry filling the gaping hole left by the state. The weight of evidence and public opinion is now on our side. With an empowered Opposition against an enfeebled Government, we now have a real opportunity to force the Government to address this problem once and for all.