Sustain / Food Poverty / Taking local action

Improve children’s access to food 365 days a year

4.3 million children were living in poverty in the UK before the pandemic and 12% of households with children experienced food insecurity between August 2020 and January 2021. That’s 9 in every classroom of 30. In addition, the UK has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world and women living on low incomes or in deprived areas are among those least likely to breastfeed.

These figures are alarming because early years and childhood are critical times for growth and development. Measures do exist to reduce health inequalities and support children living in food poverty. As Marcus Rashford’s #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign has highlighted though, much more needs to be done to ensure no child goes hungry.

Read our guide on ensuring children’s access to food 365 days a year.

Free school meals and breakfast clubs

Free school meals are currently provided to all children in the first three years of school. After this, only children from some (not all) households receiving Universal Credit are eligible. This scheme is a critical safety net as for 10% of children school lunch can be their biggest meal of the day, but much more can be done to ensure it supports all children living in food poverty.

Scotland plans to move to a Universal Free School meals (UFSM) approach where every child in primary school will phased in by August 2022. Four councils in London also use UFSM, but in the rest of the UK, 2 in 5 children living in poverty are missing out due to the low eligibility threshold. Children from families with no recourse to public funds are also unable to access the scheme. Children often need more than lunch too. 6 children in every class of 30 are at risk of starting the day too hungry to learn according to Magic Breakfast.

What can you do locally?

  • Maximise uptake of free school meals and audit and foster the provision of breakfast clubs
  • Local authorities can also assess the feasibility of a Universal free school meal approach in your district or borough

What can be done nationally?

Ultimately, free school meals are not reaching everyone in need and local authorities, schools and local organisations cannot solve this alone. We need Government leadership. Help make that happen by:

  • Contacting your MP and asking them to support the #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign and National Food Strategy recommendation to extend free school meals to all children from families on Universal Credit and to call for a comprehensive review into school food policy. Can they ask a parliamentary question to highlight this or write to a Minister for example? This guide on how to write to your MP might be helpful.
  • If you’re an MP, will you call on Ministers to extend free school meals as above and commit to a comprehensive review into school food policy?

Resources


Holiday programmes

Children in receipt of free school meals are often left at risk of food insecurity during school holidays, contributing to a ‘learning slump’ over the holiday period. Holiday programmes are designed to fill this gap by providing activities and food for students throughout school holidays.

Programmes vary between UK nation. Some offer cash payments whilst others offer activities and food, but crucially some of the programmes are only being offered as short-term responses to the pandemic. Children deserve better and that requires strategic, long-term solutions that help end hunger and tackle social isolation.

What can you do locally?

  • Designate a council officer or health professional to oversee the delivery of holiday food provision
  • Promote the support available to families, be that programmes or cash payments. This can be done via websites, leaflets and posters in health centres, community centres and food banks and social media
  • Map the programmes being delivered to identify any gaps in provision and coordinate a joined-up approach where necessary
  • Support organisations delivering holiday food programmes to provide healthy meals as part of their programmes.

What can be done nationally?

Wales and Scotland have designed effective, long-term plans for holiday food provision. The Northern Ireland executive and the Westminster government must now follow suite and commit to multi-year, long term provision for their programmes. Why not contact your MP and ask them to support a long term strategy for holiday provision, raise this as a parliamentary question or come and see your local holiday activities in action and hear from the children themselves?

Resources


Breastfeeding

The WHO and UK Governments recommend that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, to boost child and maternal health, and thereafter with other food for the around two years. In the UK only 34% of babies are receiving any breastmilk at six months, compared to 71% in Norway. Social and cultural factors are held to be the main obstacles, so promoting breastfeeding and supporting mothers is a shared responsibility.

What can you do locally?

  • Become accredited with the Baby Friendly Initiative, run by Unicef UK. This uses a set of interlinking standards for maternity, health visiting, neonatal and children’s centre services. Analysis has shown that the initiative is an effective strategy for increasing breastfeeding rates
  • Welcome breastfeeding in all public spaces and ensure all settings
  • Local authorities, health professionals and food poverty alliances can join the National Infant Feeding Network

Resources


Children’s centres and childcare

High childcare costs have a critical bearing on low-income families’ ability to meet household expenses, stay in work or engage in the training they need to escape poverty, including food poverty. Local authorities have a statutory duty to secure sufficient childcare provision for the needs of working parents in their area.

Local authorities are also required to provide ‘sufficient’ children’s centres. These centres provide a one-stop-shop for a range of community health services, parenting and family support, plus links to training and employment opportunities, for families with children under five. A six-year evaluation found that attending centres improved children’s personal, social and emotional development and school readiness, and had wider benefits for adults too. They have also prevented around 13,000 children being admitted to hospital every year.

What can you do locally?

  • Local authorities can continue to protect funding for children’s centres and childcare provision and consider funding food provision as part of the free childcare entitlement
  • Maximise use of children’s centres and childcare to address food poverty by supporting Healthy Start, healthy cooking on a budget, income maximisation, or debt and employment advice
  • Consider how children’s centres and childcare can play a role in increasing access to fresh fruit and vegetables, for example through activities, stalls or coops.

What can be done nationally?

Governments must provide sufficient funding for local authorities to deliver their statutory duties and keep providing children’s centres and childcare. You can help make this happen by:

  • Contacting your MP and asking them to push for protection of child care provision and children’s centres. They could do this by asking a question in parliament, signing a petition or an open letter, contacting the local press to share the work they are doing on this issue or you could invite them to a children’s centre so they can see it in action. This guide on how to write to your MP might be helpful.

Resources

Food Poverty: Over 5 million people in the UK struggle to get enough to eat. We’re working to change that through people-powered projects and campaigns that tackle the root causes of food poverty and ensure everyone has dignified access to healthy, affordable food.

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