As the school holidays begin for millions of children, Chair of the Petitions Committee, @CatMcKinnell MP, has written to the Government urging them to provide clarity on plans to tackle food poverty.
The Committee has written the letter the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and the Secretary of State for Education, after more than 1.1 million people signed the petition End child food poverty – no child should be going hungry started by campaigner and England international footballer Marcus Rashford.
The Government announced a package in November to support vulnerable families in England in need of food this winter and during the long school holidays in 2021.
The Government’s response to Marcus’ petition focused heavily on this support package, but the Committee has noted two key gaps, compared with what the petition asks for:
- Firstly, the Government has declined to expand eligibility for two key initiatives - free school meals, and the Healthy Start voucher scheme - to more families.
- And secondly, the measures in the Government’s winter support package are not future-proofed.
In light of the number of signatures the petition attracted, the Petitions Committee has therefore written to Ministers to press for more clarity on the Government’s response. The Committee also plans to hold one or more evidence sessions on this topic in the new year, to examine child food poverty in the UK in more detail and how to build on the Government’s winter support package.
Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell MP said:
“The Petitions Committee welcomes the Government’s support package for this winter, but there are crucial gaps that must still be addressed if it is to meet the goal of ending child food poverty.
“Most of its offerings are either one-off funding pledges, or programmes not guaranteed to continue beyond next year.
“The Government must look again at the costs and benefits of expanding eligibility for free school meals and the Healthy Start scheme to all households on Universal Credit. Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on families living in poverty, but also on those just managing before the pandemic, and we know demand for this support will have increased significantly.”
Catherine McKinnell MP added:
“It is also essential that the Government provides more certainty to families about whether schemes like the holiday activities and food programme will be made permanent; and outline any plans it has to bring forward a specific long-term plan to tackle food insecurity and child food poverty.
“For many facing children facing poverty this Christmas and beyond the answers to these questions mean the difference between sustenance and starvation.”
Petitioner Marcus Rashford said:
"The ambition and the objective for 2021 has to be developing and implementing a long-term sustainable framework to combat child food poverty in the UK once and for all. It would be false to claim that the Government hasn't invested into this space, but as it stands there are too many children falling through the cracks, living day-by-day without vital support.
“We need to work collectively to review the current system to determine where we can course-correct to make sure all children are given the best start in life. If 2020 has taught us anything it is that any one of us can fall into unforeseen circumstances.
“We must equip all children to succeed in life and that starts from the day they are born. Regardless of circumstance, not having access to food is never a child's fault. Let's start 2021 with a commitment to change."
The petition and the letter do not consider the issue of whether the Government should provide free school meals outside of term time – that was the focus of Marcus’ campaign over the summer.
The Government announced a package in November, to support vulnerable families in England in need of food over this winter and during the long school holidays in 2021. The Government’s response to Marcus’ petition focused heavily on this support package.
Information for local authorities (16 Dec) who will receive funding to support disadvantaged children during the 2021 Easter, summer and Christmas holidays:
The holiday activities and food programme 2021 will provide grant funding to local authorities to coordinate free holiday provision for eligible children.
This guidance for local authorities explains:
- the aims and objectives of the programme
- what the funding covers
- how the funding will be allocated