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108 children’s and health experts urge Government to invest in children’s health

Leading local and national figures on food and health are calling on the Government to invest in children’s futures by ensuring they have access to healthy, nutritious food. 29 prominent Directors of Public Health, as well as elected mayors and food partnerships have joined national, children’s and education organisations by signing Sustain's Open Letter to key Government Ministers.

Image credit Vera Zakharov, Sustain

Image credit Vera Zakharov, Sustain

The Open Letter, coordinated by the food and farming charity Sustain, outlines five policy measures which, if included in the Government’s impending Comprehensive Spending Review later this year, will increase children’s access to good food and provide a nutritional safety net for those that are worst off.

The Letter is supported by Directors of Public Health in cities and regions experiencing some of the worst rates of child poverty, including Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield and Manchester – the home of Marcus Rashford. Elected mayors from Bristol and Middlesbrough are also backing the calls, alongside food partnerships and food poverty alliances across the country.

The measures called for include: 

  • targeting Soft Drinks Industry Levy income spend on a healthy food investment fund for schools, 
  • expanding the School Fruit & Vegetable Scheme to all primary age children in England,
  • extending free school meals AND holiday activity and food programmes to all children in England whose families are in receipt of Universal Credit, 
  • raising the value of Healthy Start vouchers in line with inflation to £4.25, as well as ensuring all pregnant women and families with young children in receipt of Universal Credit are eligible. 

Click here for more detail on these five calls and to read Sustain's full submission to HM Treasury on increasing children's access to healthy food.

The measures also call on ensuring that families with no recourse to public funds that would otherwise be eligible do not miss out. The letter addresses Rishi Sunak MP, Gavin Williamson MP and Matt Hancock MP, whose remits on the UK’s budget, schools policy and health policy respectively give them the ultimate authority to enact these measures. 

The Covid-19 emergency has exposed the levels of food insecurity and health inequalities in the UK, with children and families disproportionately affected. Food Foundation research has found that 14% of adults living with children reported experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity in the last 6 months. 2.3 million children live in these households. And studies have shown that 4 in 5 children are not meeting their 5-A-Day.

School meals, strengthened by the School Food Standards, the School Fruit & Vegetable Scheme and Healthy Start vouchers are benefitting many children otherwise unable to access healthy diets, providing a nutritional safety net.

Sustain believes schools need to see an expansion of children’s food programmes and Sugar Tax investment now so that they can continue to support their local communities. The charity, who led campaigns for the original Sugary Drinks Levy, fear schools could be missing out on thousands of pounds that was meant to be ringfenced. In 2018/19 the Department for Education offered a one year Healthy Pupils Capital Fund to help schools invest in projects benefitting children’s health, using money raised from the tax, yet the income has not been available for schools since. Current Levy income projections are set at £340 million.

These calls echo the recommendations put forward by the National Food Strategy Part 1, which highlighted an urgent need to expand free school meal eligibility, holiday food provision and Healthy Start eligibility in order to address child food insecurity in the UK. Footballer Marcus Rashford has championed increasing and protecting access to free school meals, including over the school holidays, pressuring the Government to continue providing free school meals to eligible children, including children whose families have no recourse to public funds over the August school holidays. 

Vera Zakharov, Sustainable Food Places Local Action Coordinator at Sustain, said:

Local leaders have spoken, and children’s food access needs to be a front and centre priority for policymakers. Government has a unique opportunity this year to show leadership on safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the next generation by championing fiscal policies that provide a nutritional safety net to some of the most vulnerable children and families. We are urging Ministers to spend public money wisely by investing in children’s health.

Andrea Fallon, Director of Public Health for Rochdale Council, said:

Covid has shone a light on the impact of long-term inequalities in health particularly in the North of England and Greater Manchester and these inequalities are highly likely to get worse.  We urge Government to take action now to ensure that children and families have access to good food as this is a key foundation for good health and wellbeing and as such an essential part of getting a good start in life.

Mark Adams, Director of Public Health for South Tees, said:

In South Tees, these policies will add much needed national support to our local priorities of tackling obesity, particularly amongst children. They are also essential in narrowing the health inequalities that we face between South Tees and the England average, and also between communities within our area.

Open Letter:

The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak, MP, The Chancellor of the Exchequer 
The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson, MP, Secretary of State for Education 
The Rt Hon Matt Hancock, MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Put children’s access to healthy food at the heart of the Comprehensive Spending Review 

Dear Ministers, 

We write to you ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review to ask you to invest in children’s futures by improving their access to healthy food. The Covid-19 emergency has exposed the levels of food insecurity and health inequalities in the UK, with children and families disproportionately affected. It is also now clear that schools are a lifeline for many of our most disadvantaged families, providing children with access to healthy, nutritious food, whether in term time or during the holidays. 

It is more important than ever that children are ensured the best start in life and have access to fresh, nutritious and culturally appropriate food. With this in mind we the undersigned back the following five policy calls for the Comprehensive Spending Review. Children are counting on you. 

1) Invest Soft Drinks Industry Levy income spend on children’s health via a healthy food investment fund. A new multi-year healthy food investment fund, building on the one-off Healthy Pupils Capital Fund 2018/19, will ensure that revenue from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, projected to be about £340 million, is secured to specifically improve healthy eating environments in schools. 

2) Expand the School Fruit & Vegetable Scheme to all 4.7 million primary age children, sourcing high standard produce from British Farmers. With more than 4 in 5 children still not eating 5-a-day, expanding the scheme will increase intake of healthy fruit and vegetables by 4-11 year olds, and support British farmers and suppliers with long-term procurement contracts. 

3) Increase the value of the Healthy Start Vouchers to £4.25 and extend to all pregnant women and families with under-4’s on Universal Credit. This will ensure vouchers reflect real food prices, and increase the number of women and children benefitting to 540,000.

4) Expand free school meals to all children and young people whose families are on Universal Credit or equivalent benefits, regardless of immigration status. Currently, the threshold of eligibility is far too low and excludes many children who risk going to school with no food provision. Expanding free school meal provision will help reduce the food insecurity gap and allow school children to focus on learning. 

5) Extend school holiday activity and food provision to all children in receipt of free school meals in England. We believe local authorities are best placed to support provision on a national scale, achieved via a formula based on eligible pupil numbers, and a funding framework to ensure quality of nutrition and service delivery. We ask that you commit to implementing the above policies and work together across ministerial departments to deliver them. 


The Undersigned,

Click here for the Open Letter and full list of signatories.

Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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