During the tumultuous events of 2020, there was an aspect that was not thought of with the closure of schools due to national lockdown, and that was the impact on children. Specifically, children who relied on schools to provide them with free school meals when their parents already struggled to feed them pre-Covid. Teachers were praised for going out of their way to ensure their pupils were being fed during lockdown by providing families with food parcels.
This became a more pressing issue after Conservative MP’s recently blocked a Labour motion to provide free school meals to the nation’s poorest families. In the North West alone, several local businesses set about giving free meals to school children during the holidays, as shown on Marcus Rashford’s Twitter feed:
Famous Faces, Free Food
What was perhaps the most impressive moment out of the whole thing was the actions of Marcus Rashford who created a petition to urge the government to tackle child hunger. This petition earned 100,000 signatures within the first ten hours of its launch. The Manchester United footballer has stated that he and his family relied on such schemes as free school meals when he was younger, and wants to protect vulnerable children from hunger. His efforts resulted in vouchers provided to school children during the holidays.
With Rashford’s support, The Food Foundation has launched a film to support Government’s expanded £220m Holiday Activities and Food Programme to encourage parents to sign up this summer. The programme, backed by the Child Food Poverty Taskforce, offers fun and food for children and young people across England during the school holidays. The holiday club places are free to those who receive free school meals, with children and young people of all ages and backgrounds welcome.
He is not the only celebrity to make use of their platform to support hunger-ending charities. Comedian, Jack Whitehall made a point of volunteering with the Felix Project, a London-based project which rescues surplus food from the food chain and gets that good food to the people who need it most. Their Covid-19 appeal was launched by The Independent and Evening Standard, resulting in them delivering enough food for 1.63 million meals in April 2020 alone.
Wirral’s War on Child Poverty
According to Wirral Intelligence Service, all Wirral Wards (22) have seen a drop in the number and percentage of children living in poverty between 2011 and 2016. Yet there are very high concentrations of childhood poverty within Bidston and St. James, Birkenhead and Tranmere, Seacombe and Rock Ferry with at least 1 in 3 children living in poverty. These areas correlate strongly with other known deprivation markers. Heswall, Greasby, Frankby and Irby, Clatterbridge and Hoylake and Meols are all close to or below 5%, or less than 1 in 20 children living in low income families in 2016
This 1 in 20 figure, or approximately 5%, for children living in low income families of affluent areas of Wirral compares to around 40%, or 8 in 20 children in Bidston St. James, Birkenhead and Tranmere, Seacombe living in low income families (HMRC, 2018).
Child poverty is a big issue across the UK and so local organisations have projects and schemes in place to help tackle it:
- KIND Liverpool – Their Out of School programme runs during the half term, Easter and summer breaks for children aged 5-13. Each week (Monday-Friday) consists of a range of practical, hands on activities based around sport, drama, science, art, cooking, healthy eating, nutrition and diet, creative writing, music and video making that aim, over time and in conjunction with the existing work of care agencies, to help to improve their confidence, education, health, skills and experience and tackle discrimination.
- Fare Share Merseyside – FareShare is the UK’s national network of charitable food redistributors, made up of 18 independent organisations. They take good quality surplus food from right across the food industry and get it to more than 10,500 frontline charities and community groups.
- Neo Community – Founded in 2013, NEO quickly became recognised as key providers of food assistance and support throughout the local community and has grown in size, success and delivery through the sheer determination and passion of the entire NEO team.
- Wirral Foodbank – They provide three days’ nutritionally balanced emergency food and support to local people who are referred to them in crisis. They are part of a nationwide network of foodbanks, supported by The Trussell Trust, working to combat poverty and hunger across the UK.
- Never Bee Hungry – Wirral Hive’s child poverty campaign. This year The Hive have served over 35,000 hot meals, including 5,000 free meals this summer alone to young people who may otherwise have been at risk of holiday hunger.