This year seems to have been the year where free school meals and food insecurity among our youngest in society has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind. This was reflected this week in UNICEF’s announcement that, for the first time in 70 years, they will provide funding to feed children in Britain. How did we get to this point?
This year has been unprecedented on many levels, with massive job losses due to the pandemic and people losing family members. Even with furlough, household income has often not been what it was prior to the pandemic. One of the issues for those working families on the lowest income is that a cut of 20% to their income (the Government furlough scheme pays 80% of wages) can be a massive financial hit.
This has led to the situation where a reported 17% of children are living in a food insecure household this winter. At the same time, 900,000 extra children joined the Free School Meal program due to families seeing cuts in income and the loss of jobs. Despite a government U-turn meaning they will now provide food for FSM children over the Christmas holiday, this is often still not enough for children to have a nutritious diet.
It is feared that over Christmas, with another wave of COVID-19 infections on the horizon, this number will only grow
Impact reported in July that over 2,500 children had been admitted to hospital for malnutrition in 2020 until that point alone due to schools closing and parents not being able to find as much money for food as they did before lockdown. It is feared that over Christmas, with another wave of COVID-19 infections on the horizon, this number will only grow, and we will see even more cases in the new year.
This problem did not come out of nowhere. Although COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem, food insecurity has been a rising problem in the UK for several years. There are several key factors to this but the main one is that income is not keeping up with rises in food prices.
Whilst food prices are rising, household income is falling at over double the pace which means that many families are left with a choice to ‘heat or eat’
Government figures shows that between 2002-2003 to 2018-2019, household income after housing fell by 12%. At the same time food prices rose by 5.9%. To put it simply, whilst food prices are rising, household income is falling at over double the pace which means that many families are left with a choice to ‘heat or eat.’ Food is not the only essential, and families such as those shown in the Channel 4 documentary Breadline Britain are now going hungry so that they do not go cold, or going cold so that they do not go hungry.
This situation only seems to be made more dire by the prospect of a No Deal Brexit rising the price of important food imports such as oranges and tomatoes. This is due to some groceries seeing a tariff of 57% on entering the UK.
This all leads back to why UNICEF are supporting organisations in the UK over this Christmas holiday for the first time in 70 years. In a time when community action groups were formed and people seem to be more aware of their impact on others, there is an opportunity for charity to fill in the gaps.
However, many still argue that in the 5th richest economy in the world, food banks and parcels should not be necessary to feed our youngest in society. Even so, it is better than doing nothing and leaving children to the effects of malnutrition. If you wish to volunteer or support a local food bank, organisation such as FareShare and the Trussell Trust welcome volunteers. Locally, Footprint is a student run social supermarket with a pay it forward scheme in Sneinton.
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