SHARON HODGSON: Government is tone-deaf to children growing up in poverty

I never expected to have something in common with a 22-year-old Manchester United and England professional football player, yet here we are.

Thursday, 25th June 2020, 12:00 am

Like Marcus Rashford, I grew up on Free School Meals (FSM) and similarly I have been using my experiences growing up to make a change for the children growing up today.

I still remember the stigma of being separated from my friends to queue in a separate line with other children on FSMs.

That is why, since I became an MP in 2005, I have campaigned for Universal Free School Meals (UFSMs) and set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food in 2010 to campaign for UFSMs, breakfast clubs, high quality school food standards and food provision over the summer holidays to tackle ‘holiday hunger’.

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This is something that has been brought into public consciousness recently by the intervention of Marcus Rashford, but as he has acknowledged: this isn’t a new Coronavirus-related problem.

We have known for years that, on the approximately 170 days a year when the school gates are shut, some children will not receive regular, healthy or substantial meals. This has a negative impact on their development and learning.

With the effects of the pandemic expected to stay with us all for many months or even years to come, it was callous for the Government to expect that all families on low incomes would be able to provide substantial and healthy food during the holidays. Many of these families will be on furlough, not knowing if their job will still exist when the scheme comes to an end or will have had their finances significantly squeezed because of lockdown.

I welcome the Government’s U-turn, that will see all 1.3 million children eligible for FSMs able to continue accessing food provision for free during the summer holidays. But the Prime Minister’s admission that he wasn’t aware of the campaign until the day of the U-turn is testament to his Government’s tone-deafness to children growing up in poverty.

Because of this, I will continue to campaign until no child goes without food in the UK.