England international footballer, Marcus Rashford MBE is today launching a new campaign encouraging people across the UK to write to their MP to support three major recommendations in the National Food Strategy to help alleviate the increase of food insecurity being experienced by households with children. Marcus is asking members of the public to visit the #EndChildFood Poverty website and follow simple steps to write to your MP ahead of the Government Spending Review expected in October.
New data from The Food Foundation shows that more households with children (in the UK aged 17 and under) are experiencing food insecurity than in the first wave of the pandemic; 15% have experienced food insecurity in the past six months. These levels are approximately 27% higher than before Covid.
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 Marcus is supporting, part of Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy, will guarantee that every child at risk of going hungry gets some good food every day. They are:
- Expand Free School Meal eligibility to all children aged 7–18 in all households earning £20,000 or less after benefits, and to children that are undocumented or living in households with the NRPF (no recourse to public funds) immigration condition.
- Provide long-term funding for the Holiday Activities and Food Programme, increasing eligibility in line with Free School Meal expansion.
- Expand Healthy Start eligibility to all households earning £20,000 or less after benefits with pregnant women or children under five and invest in a communications campaign to increase awareness and uptake of the scheme.
Marcus Rashford today calls on the public across the UK to write to their MPs. He is calling on Government to urgently support the recommendations and include the funds needed in the Spending Review expected in October. This follows his previous campaign when over 1.1 million people signed a petition on the parliamentary website.
The Food Foundation believes that current record highs in food insecurity can be reduced by ensuring families have the financial means (whether from 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. Currently, many children living in food insecure households are missing out on these schemes.
Many are eating badly in school because their families have too little money to buy school meals. The latest data shows that 17% of parents whose children are not eligible for free school meals and don’t regularly eat from the canteen say this is because school meals are unaffordable, meaning they could be skipping lunch or resorting to packed lunches. However, less than 2% of packed lunches meet Government guidelines for a healthy and balanced school meal with high levels of foods high in fact, sugar or salt being seen in lunch boxes across the UK.
A newly published report today highlights the current system for free school meals is unfair and represents a postcode lottery:
- In England, only children from households earning less than £7400 (before benefits and after tax), qualify for Free School Meals (Year 3 and above).
- In Scotland all children in primary school will soon be getting FSM although in secondary schools the eligibility threshold is the same as in England.
- In Northern Ireland all children in households earning less than £14k (before benefits and after tax) get FSM.
- 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 £7400. That’s approximately 350,000 children (FF calculations).
New research shows 80% of adults in England say they would support the expansion of Free School Meal eligibility to all children experiencing food poverty*.
Last year the Government responded positively to the calls for increased support for children and committed funds to increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers and to provide holiday programmes for children eligible for free school meals. Since then, the #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign has been working to ensure families eligible for these schemes are aware of them.
Major retailers who are members of Marcus’ Taskforce provided additional value to the scheme at the start of this year so that the vouchers would go further and support very low-income families to buy more fruit and veg, and Marcus Rashford and Tom Kerridge’s Full Time Cookery School has promoted the scheme providing weekly low-cost recipes.
Thanks to these efforts, uptake of the scheme increased by 10 percentage points between August 2020 and July 2021 across England, Wales and Northern Ireland bringing the benefits to an additional 56,000 pregnant women and young children.
In addition to supporting these recommendations, Marcus has today voiced concern around the proposed digitisation of the Healthy Start scheme, calling for the government to announce a clear timeline for the rollout and communication of the new scheme which was supposed to be gone live this autumn, and to ensure that existing issues with the implementation of the digitisation scheme are urgently resolved (such as the need for recipients to re-apply and activate their benefits by calling an NHS line charging up to 55p a minute).
Today, the Food Foundation and the Peas Please partnership publish new data and two new reports on children’s food looking at disparities across the four nations of the UK.