You can read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
I never expected to have something in common with a 22-year-old Manchester United and England professional football player, yet here we are.
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’.
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.
Sharon, in her role as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, is lending her support to the Make Rio Count National Fun Day on the 4th August 2016, the day before the start of the Rio Olympic Games.
This national fun day will highlight the good work of schools, charities, councils and others helping make provisions for children to get good food and free activities in the school holidays, and will coincide with the global nutrition summit in Rio, the day before the Olympic Games begin.
The global nutrition summit in Rio follows a similar summit held ahead of the London 2012 Olympics on nutrition and aims to build on the work being done internationally and nationally to address hunger and food insecurity.
The two specific asks from the Make Rio Count Fun Day, include:
- A new vision for food and nutrition security in the UK which delivers healthy, affordable sustainable diets for all;
- A targeted package to improve the life-chances of women and children most at risk of a poor diet, which includes:
- Increase the uptake and voucher value of the Healthy Start programme.
- Protect and improve child nutrition during the school holidays by piloting holiday provision for the UK’s most vulnerable children, and;
- Conduct an annual national measurement of household food insecurity.
This national fun day follows on from important work done by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School’s Food Holiday Hunger Task Group, which since its inception in 2013, has held a national conference in Sheffield on child holiday hunger, launched guidelines on providing food during holiday provision, written an update report on holiday hunger which highlights best practice around the country, and most recently, worked with Northumbria University to map holiday provision, which includes food provision, to identify where more support is needed to address child holiday hunger.
Following the launch of the National Fun Day, Sharon said:
“For many years now, I have worked alongside fellow Parliamentarians and experts in the world of children’s health, nutrition and education to ensure we finally end the issue of child hunger, including during the school holidays, and that is why I welcome the Make Rio Count national fun day to help raise awareness of what more can be done by the Government.
“The Government cannot attend this vital international conference and call for hunger to be addressed across the world, and not do anything to address it on our own doorstep. With evidence continuing to show that children return to school after the summer holidays malnourished and have fallen behind their more affluent peers in terms of their education, along with the rising use of food banks during the summer holidays, then it is high-time the Government did something about this.
“The government’s rhetoric on addressing hunger globally is welcome but inaction here in the UK cannot continue as it is detrimental to the future and the life chances of our children. That is why rhetoric on hunger in other countries must be replicated here in the UK and I hope that this national fun day can take us one step closer to seeing the Government finally address this important issue.”
You can find a flyer for the National Fun Day here.