Tackling food poverty and unhealthy eating has been a goal for decades, and there have been some positive steps taken.
However, with the growing lack of support for the early years sector and a financial crunch from the pandemic, there is a worryingly large number of children who are not able to access healthy and essential food.
Up to 1.5 million more children in England should get free school meals to help tackle a growing crisis of food poverty and unhealthy eating, according to a blueprint billed as the first national food strategy since war rationing.
The government-commissioned report warns of a catastrophic food emergency, stating that more than £2bn is needed for farmers to improve the countryside. Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon restaurant and the author of the strategy warns also of the stark economic, health and nutritional inequalities which are set to be made worse by the pandemic’s economic fallout.
He warned that “the wave of unemployment now rushing towards us is likely to create a sharp rise in food insecurity and outright hunger”.
London Early Years Foundation is now urging ministers to extend its free school meal voucher scheme to support vulnerable children at nurseries.
The Government made a U-turn last month after England footballer, Marcus Rashford lobbied the Prime Minister to provide free school meal vouchers for 1.3m children in the UK during the summer holidays. Now it needs to be extended and quickly.
June O’Sullivan CEO of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) says: ‘During an economic downturn, it is the poor and the young who will suffer most which is why doing nothing is simply not an option. The income of less well-off families has been hit by severe real-terms cuts in benefits and by higher housing costs which means there is very little left. We’ve even seen parents go hungry so that their children can eat. Left unaddressed, poverty can alter the trajectory of a child’s entire life and they are more likely to develop mental health issues, become overweight or obese, and die early. This is why the Prime Minister must make it a priority to provide a route out of poverty for all those families and this should include the extension of the free meal vouchers.’