We thank Marcus Rashford for highlighting the issue of food poverty in the UK and for his letter to MPs urging them to reverse their decision to cancel the free school meals voucher scheme in England over the summer holidays.
Thanks to his intervention, the Government has now made £120m available to ensure children eligible for free school meals will receive a voucher. Marcus’ account of what life was like growing up, relying on food banks and free school meals, underlines what is unfortunately an all too familiar experience for the 1.3 million children who receive free school meals in England.
It also demonstrates the power of the voice of someone who has lived in poverty, which is why our Poverty Proofing work is so important. Poverty Proofing the School Day is a toolkit for schools, to reduce stigma and remove barriers to learning. Our school research and delivery practitioners spend time in each school, experiencing what a school day is like for a pupil by speaking to pupils, parents, staff and governors.
By listening to the voice of those in poverty, it identifies any stigmatising practices and policies and leads to a unique action plan for the school to take forward. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, now more than ever, this work is important as we see widening inequalities and more families being pulled into the grip of poverty.
“Whilst the Government has reversed its decision on the food voucher scheme for the summer holidays, this is not the end of it, this is merely a starting point.”
Food insecurity is being exacerbated as a result of Covid-19. For example, the Food Foundation estimates 200,000 children have had to skip meals because their families couldn’t access sufficient food during lockdown. In addition, Northumbria University has found that prior to school closures, approximately 25% of children skipped at least one meal a day. This has increased to 35% after school closures and 10% of children skipping more than one meal per day.
Families cannot continue like this, school holiday to holiday, wondering how, when and if they will be able to put food on the table. It is now clearer than ever that a long term commitment and plan from the Government is needed for year-round free school meal provision so that children in poverty are not left hungry.