A group of children and young people from across the UK have travelled to the House of Lords to share their experiences of food poverty with the Children’s Future Food Inquiry committee.
MPs, peers and civil society experts will hear directly from nine ‘food ambassadors’ between the ages of 10 and 20-years-old, who have journeyed from England, Scotland and Wales to open conversations with policymakers in Westminster. The young people hope that their work with the Children’s Future Food Inquiry will highlight the pervasive nature of food insecurity in the UK which they say affects every aspect of their lives, despite their belief that everyone has a right to eat properly and seek help without judgement.
“If you feel hungry it can make you feel sick and you can pass out in lessons”Young person, Children’s Future Food Inquiry participant, UK
“If you don’t eat enough at lunch it makes you tired, it messes with your brain as you can’t reach your full potential as you’ve not been fed”Young person, Children’Future Food Inquiry participant, UK
A new survey of 11-18-year-olds conducted by Childwise found that a quarter of children who do not receive free school meals have gone without lunch because they couldn’t afford it. The Fixers report details that children often arrive in school without eating breakfast and with no money for snacks. Frequently the money allocated for free school meals did not buy enough food to satisfy hunger, but it was felt that no one is responsible for ensuring that the children had enough to eat. Recent analysis from the Food Foundation showed that 3.7 million children in the UK are living in households for whom a healthy diet is most likely unaffordable.
“My mum gets £60 and my dad gets £200 through benefit, it’s not enough money for two weeks. Once you’ve paid the bills there is not enough for food”Young person, Children’s Future Food Inquiry participant, UK
Although there is still no national measurement of food insecurity in the UK, rates are estimated to be some of the worst in Europe, and disproportionately affect the 4.1 million children living in poverty. Food insecurity can lead to both malnutrition and obesity, with households forced to rely on the very cheapest foods, which are often nutrient-poor but calorie-rich.
The stigma around food poverty was identified as a key barrier to children seeking support, and the young people called for a dedicated hunger teacher in schools to educate people about hunger, food insecurity and food banks, which they believed would help reduce stigma and encourage peers and teachers to support those in need. 72% of the children that participated in the project thought the portrayal of food on TV was unrealistic and damaging, and wanted more responsible meal depictions and advertising.
“My parents get depressed with food adverts; they can’t afford it”Young person, Children’s Future Food Inquiry participant, UK
The Children’s Future Food Inquiry is a nationwide investigation into children’s food insecurity in the UK, and aims to provide a platform for children and young people to share their experiences and help shape solutions to the problem. The event at the House of Lords will be followed by evidence hearings in each of the four UK nations, where policy makers will hear from academics, frontline staff, civil society experts and those with lived experience of children’s food poverty. The England evidence hearing will be chaired by the chair of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry committee, Sharon Hodgson MP.
A review of the health consequences of children’s food insecurity conducted by the National Institute for Health Research identified that nearly 20% (19.5%) of children under 15 in the UK live in food insecure households, and 10% in severely food insecure households. The review highlighted the link found by most major studies between food insecurity and mental and physical health issues in children, as well as negative impacts on social wellbeing. Food insecurity in children is related to housing issues, drugs and alcohol abuse, fighting and bullying and lower levels of emotional wellbeing.
Corey McPartland, 15, Darwen
“My mum has got a disability, she suffers from epilepsy which means she cannot go near a hot pan as she may burn herself if she suddenly has a fit. It means I’m constantly cleaning and looking after my younger brothers, who are nine and twelve. I cook for them most days and I have a friend who does most of the food shopping for me.
“I didn’t realise I was experiencing food poverty, to me not having enough food is my normal. But then I started to realise that my friends had money to spend on food and I didn’t.
“I want to challenge the stigma around food poverty and encourage others to have conversations about it. I feel I have the power to make changes not only in my local area but nationally.
“It’s not right young people go hungry… By speaking out we can change this. After all nothing is more powerful than hearing a story from a mouth that has experienced hunger.”
Dame Emma Thompson, Children’s Future Food Inquiry ambassador, said: “It beggars belief that in a country as wealthy as the UK so many children are not only living in poverty, well below the breadline, but actually going hungry – especially in the holidays. I am truly ashamed when I consider our hungry children and am determined that we demand real action from the Government, instead of empty promises, so that every child in the UK has enough good food to eat regardless of what their parents earn, where they go to school or where they live.”
Sharon Hodgson MP, Chair of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry committee said: “It is shameful that, in one of the world’s richest economies, so many children are going hungry and left wondering where their next meal will come from. Parents shouldn’t be put in a position where they themselves skip meals in order to feed their children – however, we know that this happens all too often.
“I hope that the Inquiry will draw the Government’s attention to this very serious problem, which is much more prevalent than first thought. We need serious action from the Government if they want to ensure that future generations will grow up healthy.”
Anna Taylor OBE, Executive Director of the Food Foundation, said: “Children’s voices should be at the heart of our response to a problem that affects so many young people in the UK. It’s unacceptable that 10% of children under 15 live in severely food insecure households (making the UK the worst in Europe for food security), and that the most disadvantaged suffer its consequences so disproportionately, with childhood obesity rates in the UK’s most deprived areas more than double as high as their wealthiest counterparts.
“We know that food insecurity damages children’s mental and physical health, makes it harder for them to perform well at school and compromises their social wellbeing. It’s time policymakers engage directly with the young people who are living with food insecurity, and work with them to develop solutions based on real experiences.”