The Child Poverty and Action Group (CPAG) has published research showing that children from low-income families suffer a sense of shame and exclusion due to not having enough food to eat. This is a black mark against the Government and the greatest national shame that we are unable to feed our children properly.
Although all schools implement a ‘free school meals’ policy, the formula for calculating eligibility is inexact and in some schools, meal options and dietary restrictions significantly limit the nutritional quality and range of food that children can eat. Furthermore, we must acknowledge that children from immigrant families that have no recourse to public funds are disqualified from this policy, and therefore might go an entire school day without eating. In some instances, parents will forego their own food to make sure their children are fed. This is nothing short of disgraceful, and is clearly a product of a Government unwilling to acknowledge the prevalence of poverty, and the suffering it causes.
It will come as no surprise that children who cannot afford to eat will have their physical, mental and emotional well-being substantially harmed. They face social exclusion, watching their friends and classmates eat at lunch, whilst they cannot. There are countless studies linking malnutrition to a range of developmental disorders and poor focus, concentration and subsequently, weaker educational attainment. Evidently there is no food shortage in Britain, and the Government has a duty of care to all children to ensure their welfare is of the highest standard.
The Government’s apathy towards their most vulnerable citizens is the cause of this monumental shortcoming, and it comes as no surprise from a party comprising the disconnected ‘elite’ that has no comprehension or interest in the impact of ideological austerity. I stand with the Chief Executive of CPAG, Alison Garnham, in calling for the introduction of universal free school meals, ensuring that no child gets left behind. I also agree with Rebecca O’Connell, the co-author of the UCL study, ‘Living Hand to Mouth’, who argues that the Government needs to reassess benefits and wages to ensure that everybody can access a satisfactory standard of living, regardless of occupation, immigration status, income or social group.
Here in Bolton, the Labour Council is working to improve the health of young people, by delivering a balanced diet throughout the school day with free breakfast clubs, free school meals for all year one and year two pupils, and subsidised school meals, which remain among the most affordable in the country. For further information, please see here: https://www.bolton.gov.uk/free-school-meals-clothing-allowance/free-school-meals-help-school-uniform