Our fight to stop children going hungry during school holidays

PUBLISHED: 21:23 19 August 2020 | UPDATED: 21:23 19 August 2020

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford who has raised the profile of the campaign to give free school meals to children who need them all year round

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford who has raised the profile of the campaign to give free school meals to children who need them all year round

PA Wire/PA Images

Ian Duckett and Rowan Shingler from the Norfolk against Holiday Hunger campaign explain how they are fighting for the rights of every child to have access to free school meals all year round if they need them

Norfolk against Holiday Hunger (NAHH) seeks to provide a model of trade union solidarity in the face of government indifference. The NAHH organising group was established by Norfolk NEU and Norfolk Unite Community and later additionally bank-rolled by Norwich RMT and Norwich Trades Council.

NAHH recognises the on-going importance of the all but abandoned Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda. ECM was the radical government initiative for England and Wales that was launched in 2003, at least partly in response to the death of Victoria Climbié. It is one of the most important policy initiatives ever introduced and development in relation to children and children’s services ever. It led in the short-to-medium-term to massive and progressive advances to the children and families agenda, leading to the Children Act 2004.

Established in the wake of the inspired intervention of its patron saint, Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford, who famously took the Tories to task on this issue, the campaign aims to NAHH has twin aims:

1. Expand the entitlement to free school meals to include all children from low-income families (households earning less than 60% of the median income) and children of families who have no recourse to public funds.

2. Extend the current scheme to include all school and half-term holidays.

A large part of the campaign is built around an open letter to Norfolk MPs. Supporters across the county have signed this letter.

A further aim of the campaign is to promote similar projects to NAHH based on union co-operation in other parts of the country.

The Covid crisis has exposed the many inequalities of our current economic and political system. People working in low paid professions, those living in poorer areas and those from ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19.

A government social outcomes report estimates that of the 4.6 million children that live in poverty only 1.3 million receive free school meals.

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That means 3.3 million children who do not receive free school meals could potentially be going hungry. By 2022 it is predicted 5.2 million children will be living in poverty.

In Norfolk of the 24,825 children living in low-income households only 13,953 receive free school meals, leaving 10,872 children potentially going hungry during school time.

Financial pressures on families due to high rents and the cost of living could mean nearly 25,000 children are going hungry during the school holiday. A study published in SAGE journals in May 2018 indicates food insecurity during school holidays can lead to a child’s learning stagnating or even declining, as well as effecting health and well-being.

As outward looking members of our communities we are increasingly concerned about the impact poverty and in particular holiday hunger is having on the children of Norfolk, and indeed, nationally.

We have welcomed the government’s Covid Summer Food Fund but with the prediction of the biggest recession in history just round the corner and summer support about to end this problem is set to worsen. Given this, members of the NEU, Unite and RMT have congregated around hunger to form a campaign, comprising teachers, parents, students, community organisers, grandparents and other residents of Norfolk.

One of the objectives of NAHH is to promote similar campaigns involving NEU, trades councils and other unions in projects where the legacy of ECM prevails. ECM issues around the safeguarding and welfare need children and young adults up to the age of 19, or 24 for those with disabilities and it is important (especially perhaps in the time of Coronavirus) to remember its keynotes:

Stay safe

Be healthy

Enjoy and achieve

Make a positive contribution

Achieve economic well-being

To read and sign the campaign’s open letter, click here

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