Comment

Free school meals: nurses cannot remain silent on child food poverty

We see the impact a lack of food has on the poorest families. It’s time to make our voices heard

We see on a daily basis the impact that a lack of healthy food can have on the poorest families. Its time we made our voices heard

Nurses and health visitors see first-hand the impact food poverty has on the people they serve including our most vulnerable in their daily work with families.

It is truly commendable that local businesses and community organisations have offered to step in where the government has recently chosen to decline vulnerable children the opportunity for free school meals in the holidays .

Providing a lifeline of nutritious food to those in poverty

However, the offer from local businesses and community groups does not provide universal coverage, is unsustainable and

...

We see on a daily basis the impact that a lack of healthy food can have on the poorest families. It’s time we made our voices heard

Photo: iStock

Nurses and health visitors see first-hand the impact food poverty has on the people they serve – including our most vulnerable – in their daily work with families.

It is truly commendable that local businesses and community organisations have offered to step in where the government has recently chosen to decline vulnerable children the opportunity for free school meals in the holidays.

Providing a lifeline of nutritious food to those in poverty

However, the offer from local businesses and community groups does not provide universal coverage, is unsustainable and unregulated, potentially bringing with it high risks for vulnerable children.

At the Queen’s Nursing Institute conference last week, I spoke about receiving free school meals throughout my teenage years at school, while I was in informal and then formal care.

I have experienced what it is like to have a lifeline of nutritious food when it is unaffordable and unavailable at home.

‘In a so-called first-world country, no child should go hungry as a result of a government policy’

As a teenager, I cannot imagine how I would have engaged with private businesses to receive free meals in the holidays, and the shame of having to do so publicly would probably have prevented me.

The measure of any society is in how our most vulnerable citizens are treated. The current situation with free school meals in England is not a legacy for which this government will wish to be remembered.

Marcus Rashford’s child food poverty campaign and government petition

At the time of writing, an open UK government petition to end child food poverty and ensure no child goes hungry has been started by the footballer Marcus Rashford and is amassing support.

Mr Rashford – who became an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list earlier this month – started a campaign around child food poverty earlier this year and has done much to further awareness of the issue.

His petition calls on government to support vulnerable children and end child food poverty by implementing three recommendations from the National Food Strategy.

These recommendations are: to expand access to free school meals; provide meals and activities during holidays to stop holiday hunger; and to increase the value of and expand the Healthy Start scheme.

The petition now has almost a million signatures and government has an obligation to hold a debate in parliament on the issue.

Footballer Marcus Rashford has led the campaign Picture: REUTERS/Lee Smith

Nurses and health visitors have a part to play in ending child food poverty

Mr Rashford has led a fabulous campaign and there is an opportunity too for nurses and health visitors everywhere to raise their voices in support of the communities they serve. That's why the Queen’s Nursing Institute has joined forces with the RCN, the Institute of Health Visiting, the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, and the School and Public Health Nurses Association, to lobby the government on behalf of nurses and health visitors with a joint letter.

As nurses, we see the impact of poverty on children every day and we cannot remain silent on this issue.

Child food poverty should not be a political issue.

In a so-called first-world country, no child should go hungry as a result of a government policy where the consequence – unintended or otherwise – is to deprive children of food during school holidays.

I look forward to the government’s response to the letter from the collective voice of nurses and health visitors and to free school meals being reinstated with immediate effect, up to and including Easter 2021.


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