Insight & Analysis

Press release: Marcus Rashford MBE launches national campaign calling on MPs to back recommendations to end child food poverty

Published: Sep 2021

6th September 2021 – England International Footballer, Marcus Rashford MBE is today launching a new campaign encouraging people across the UK to write to their MP to support 3 major recommendations in the National Food Strategy to help alleviate the increase of food insecurity being experienced by households with children. Marcus is asking members of the public to visit endchildfoodpoverty.org/write-now and follow simple steps to write to your MP ahead of the Government Spending Review expected in October.

Newspaper press release

New data from The Food Foundation shows that more households with children (in the UK aged 17 and under) are experiencing food insecurity than in the first wave of the pandemic. 15% have experienced food insecurity in the past 6 months. These levels are approximately 27% higher than before Covid (reference).

In addition, food prices have been consistently higher in the first 6 months of this year than they were towards the end of 2020.

The 3 recommendations Marcus is supporting, part of Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy, will guarantee that every child at risk of going hungry gets some good food every day. They are:

  1. Expand Free School Meal eligibility to all children aged 7-18 in all households earning £20,000 or less after benefits, and to children that are undocumented or living in households with the NRPF immigration condition.
  2. Provide long-term funding for the Holiday Activities and Food Programme, increasing eligibility in line with Free School Meal expansion.
  3. Expand Healthy Start eligibility to all households earning £20,000 or less after benefits with pregnant women or children under five and invest in a communications campaign to increase awareness and uptake of the scheme.

Marcus Rashford today calls on the public across the UK to write to their MPs via his #EndChildFood Poverty website. He is calling on Government to urgently support the recommendations and include the funds needed in the Spending Review expected in October. This follows his previous campaign when over 1.1 million people signed a petition on the parliamentary website.

The Food Foundation believes that current record highs in food insecurity can be reduced by ensuring families have the financial means (whether from employment or from benefit payments) to purchase sufficient food. Government schemes such as Free School Meals and Healthy Start also help to guarantee some basic nutrition protection for children when they are growing and learning. Currently many children living in food insecure households are missing out on these schemes.

Many are eating badly in school because their families have too little money to buy school meals. The latest data shows that 17% of parents whose children are not eligible for free school meals and don’t regularly eat from the canteen say this is because school meals are unaffordable, meaning they could be skipping lunch or resorting to packed lunches (reference). However less than 2% of packed lunches meet Government guidelines for a healthy and balanced school meal with high levels of foods high in fact, sugar and / or salt being seen in lunchboxes across the UK (reference).

A newly published report today highlights the current system for free school meals is unfair and represents a postcode lottery:

  • In England, only children from households earning less than £7400 (before benefits and after tax), qualify for Free School Meals (Year 3 and above)
  • In Scotland all children in primary school will soon be getting FSM although in secondary schools the eligibility threshold is the same as in England.
  • In Northern Ireland all children in households earning less than £14k (before benefits and after tax) get FSM
  • In Wales, the threshold is the same as for England but there is no Universal Free School Meals for those below Year 3.

The very low threshold in England means that half of children who are from food insecure households are excluded from free school meals because their families earn just above £7400 (reference). That’s approximately 350,000 children (FF calculations).

New research shows 80% of adults in England say they would support the expansion of Free School Meal eligibility to all children experiencing food poverty*.

Last year the Government responded positively to the calls for increased support for children and committed funds to increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers and to provide holiday programmes for children eligible for free school meals. Since then, the #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign has been working to ensure families eligible for these schemes are aware of them.

Major retailers who are members of Marcus’ Taskforce provided additional value to the scheme at the start of this year so that the vouchers would go further and support very low-income families to buy more fruit and veg, and Marcus Rashford and Tom Kerridge’s Full Time Cookery School has promoted the scheme providing weekly low-cost recipes.

Thanks to these efforts, uptake of the scheme increased by 10 percentage points between August 2020 and July 2021 across England, Wales and Northern Ireland bringing the benefits to an additional 56,000 pregnant women and young children.

In addition to supporting these recommendations, Marcus has today voiced concern around the proposed digitisation of the Healthy Start scheme, calling for the government to announce a clear timeline for the rollout and communication of the new scheme which was supposed to be go live this Autumn, and to ensure that existing issues with the implementation of the digitisation scheme are urgently resolved (such as the need for recipients to re-apply and activate their benefits by calling an NHS line charging up to 55p a minute).

Today, the Food Foundation and the Peas Please partnership publish new data and two new reports on children’s food looking at disparities across the four nations of the UK.

Reports

Feeding our Future (Peas Please Partnership) looks at the provision of school food across the four devolved nations, with a focus on school food quality and how easy it is for children to access vegetables and a nutritious meal while at school. It compares and contrasts differing provision of healthy school food across the UK nations and present a number of examples of best practice from a broad range of organisations working in school food. The report makes recommendations for policymakers, caterers and schools who wish to improve the quality of the food school children eat.

A Year of Children’s Food (Food Foundation) provides a progress update on policy to address children’s food poverty over the past year and allocates a traffic light rating to each of the four nations. It specifically focuses on Free School Meals, free holiday meals and the Healthy Start scheme. Off the back of England’s National Food Strategy, it makes recommendations for what policymakers should do now across the four nations.

Quotes

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of Food Foundation said:

“It’s extremely distressing that now even more children lack a secure, nutritious diet compared with last year. Despite a sense of ‘normality’ returning, this is no time for complacency – we can’t sit back and allow this damage to our children’s health, learning and life chances, not to mention the heavy burden it bears on our NHS.

We know children from deprived backgrounds have higher obesity rates, worse levels of diabetes, more tooth decay and even impaired height development compared with their wealthier peers. This will only get worse if left unaddressed and entrench inequalities deeper. So, today, we are asking Government to act appropriately to protect our youngest citizens.

An investment in the Autumn spending review to expand eligibility for Free School Meals and Healthy Start and commit to long-term funding for the Holiday Activities and Food Programme will guarantee children at risk of hunger some good food every day.”

Marcus Rashford, Footballer and food poverty campaigner said:

“Whilst we’ve come a long way in the last 20 months, placing the issue of child food poverty at the forefront, devastatingly, the issue is getting worse not better.

The entire nation got behind the national team this Summer so let’s put these figures in football terms:

You can fill 27 Wembley stadiums with the 2.5 million children that are struggling to know where their next meal might be coming from today.

What is it going to take for these children to be prioritised? Instead of removing support through social security, we should be focusing efforts on developing a sustainable long-term roadmap out of this child hunger pandemic.

I am, today, pledging my support for 3 recommendations from Part 2 of the National Food Strategy. I hope that we see the required investment pledged during the Autumn Spending Review. I will be writing to my MP about it, and I would encourage you all to do the same.

It will take many of us to stand together on this, and show we care about reaching those most in need in our communities.”

Rebecca Tobi, Peas Please project manager at The Food Foundation said:

“School food standards need to be updated, monitored and enforced. School mealtimes provide a great opportunity to support children to eat fruit and veg which they need to protect their health, but too many schools are not serving enough veg, and the current small size of the school fruit and veg scheme is a missed opportunity to drive up consumption. In Scotland and Northern Ireland – standards require two portions of veg to be served in each school lunch but in England and Wales it’s only one. Ensuring all children are fed a nutritious meal at school is a great way to support their learning and future health.”

Asha, 15, Young Food Ambassador, said:

“It’s easy to see from the statistics that child food poverty is a problem. But you don’t truly understand how it feels unless you’ve experienced food poverty yourself. It’s shame, it’s worry, it’s having to pretend you’ve had enough to eat when really you’ve skipped lunch. It’s struggling to keep up in class, it’s hunger pangs when you go to bed, it’s watching your parents’ work all hours to try and pay the bills. The people in power have the chance to fix this – making sure every hungry child gets some food everyday shouldn’t be something we need to fight for. To me, it’s obvious this is needed and I’m just 15. I’m really pleased Marcus and the public are going to help children like me by writing to their MPs. Every young person should do this too and have the chance to make their voices heard #WriteNow.”

Simon Kenton-Lake, Senior Officer at Nourish Scotland and lead author of the ‘Feeding Our Future’ report said:

“One of the key recommendations in our report is the roll out of free school meals to all primary and secondary school children right across the UK. Access to good food should be a right not a privilege, irrespective of where you live or how much your family earns – and when we talk about ‘good food’ we mean food that nourishes not only our children but also our local communities, economies and the environment.”

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