1.3 million children are dependent on free school meals. That is 1.3 million children in one of the richest countries in the world. This is the injustice of inequality, the exploitation of poorly paid work, the lack of investment in good secure jobs, which has served up food poverty rather than serving three meals a day.
Over the last few weeks, a £15 food parcel or voucher has been made available for these children, but the Prime Minister was adamant that providing food for the poorest children would not be his priority and he would end the scheme. This was until Labour forced a debate in Parliament and then, Marcus Rashford penned a letter.
The footballer told his story. His Mum worked hard, but it wasn’t enough. He depended on breakfast clubs and free school meals to keep him fed. Food banks and soup kitchens filled in other gaps and there was always the Christmas meal to collect. Because of the generosity of others, he can now put on his England shirt, but greater than any goal he will ever score, he can hold up the trophy of justice, as children will now be fed. A single letter stared the Prime Minister in the face, and he could not look away.
This must be the start of eradicating food poverty where 30% of children are now living in poverty and this is on the rise. 45% of BAME children live in poverty too. Without Government intervention we could see the biggest recession of all time, the worse economic downturn than anywhere else in the world, and people need to know that the Government and Council will not allow anyone to fall through the gaps that they will not go hungry.
Here in York 2317 children currently receive free school meals and with the claimant count rocketing by 2140 people since the lockdown begun, it is clear that the city is having to support new levels of food poverty. If the furlough or self-employed income support scheme suddenly end this is when we could witness a significant spike in poverty. York is expected to be the second most vulnerable place due to the weakness of our local economy predicated in insecure jobs and in the hospitality, retail, tourism and leisure sectors.
Throughout this crisis people have had to wait 3 weeks to get an initial appointment with the DWP, to then have another 5 week wait for their Universal Credit – 2 months without money coming in, and nothing to live off. Some families have no recourse to public funds and are dependent on the generosity of others. Others, again, simply struggle.
We know that children who are hungry do not do well at school. Empty stomachs draw their attention, so it is in the interests of everyone that children are properly fed.
But we shouldn’t be going for the minimum, and this is where Labour differentiates itself from others. Here in York we are calling for every child to have access to breakfast and at least one hot nutritious meal every day in addition to a third meal.
But why just children? It is often parents who skip a meal to ensure that their youngsters are fed. We know that parents struggle too. Other vulnerable groups like the elderly are often battling with pensioner poverty and then there are those with nothing to their name, those homeless or needing additional support.
Every man, woman and child should be fed. We have seen increased dependency on York Foodbank, and it is thanks to their volunteers and the generosity of people across York that they are able to hand out emergency food parcels. York Supper Initiative inspired by traders during this lockdown have delivered 100s of hot meals to people across the city and Fareshare continues to redistribute surplus food, tackling food poverty and food waste in one.
York’s strong values of justice and equality must drive us to go further. We need a full food strategy to ensure that everyone in York is fed. We call ourselves a Human Rights City, but if people cannot even put food in their stomachs something has gone terribly wrong.