A new briefing has revealed that 400,000 children in London experience food insecurity.
To highlight the issue, young people from across London have taken part in the first ever London Children’s Food Insecurity Summit at City Hall. The summit has been organised by the Mayor’s Fund for London in partnership with the Food Foundation and Greater London Authority (GLA).
Children speaking at the event will call for action from national government, the Mayor of London and local authorities to ensure every child in London can access a healthy diet.
Research states that one in six (17%) parents in the capital experience food insecurity, along with 36% of single parents and 32% of black Londoners. One in five adults (1.5 million Londoners) are food insecure.
A new London-focused briefing from the Children’s #Right2Food Campaign draws on the Mayor of London’s recent measure of food insecurity (published 2019), which comes well before the national UK measure (due in 2021). The Survey of Londoners found that half (49%) of parents with children experiencing food insecurity are socially isolated. Sixteen percent of parents from food insecure households reported being unable to provide balanced meals for their children, and 9% said their children did not always have enough to eat. These figures could increase if food prices rise following the UK’s departure from the European Union.
In response to these statistics, young representatives for the Children’s #Right2Food Campaign are unveiling their key policy recommendations in the London Children’s #Right2Food Charter. The Charter proposes a new, independent Children’s Food Watchdog, and asks for the introduction of Universal Free School Meals so that everyone who needs them receives them, including migrant children with No Recourse to Public Funds.
The London Charter also calls on the government to provide statutory funding for free holiday provision, including food, for young people eligible for free school meals. This builds on the work of the Mayor’s Fund for London’s Kitchen Social campaign, which currently supports over 100 holiday clubs across the capital to provide free food and activities for young people in their neighbourhood. At present, despite limited funding from the Department for Education for piloting free holiday provision in a small number of local authorities, there is no nationwide statutory provision for children eligible for free school meals over holiday periods.
London’s food sector contributes nearly £20 billion a year to the city’s economy. At the same time, 70% of young parents (16-24 years) in London have children who are food insecure, and 37% of children in London are overweight or obese.
Even as the capital of the fifth richest economy in the world, hunger in London exists alongside extremely high childhood obesity rates. Across London there is a marked socio-economic gradient for childhood obesity, which is three times as high in the city’s poorest boroughs compared with their wealthiest counterparts.
This is unsurprising considering calorie for calorie, healthy food in England is three times more expensive than unhealthy food3, and one in five jobs (20%) in London pay below London Living Wage. Findings from the Great Weight Debate 2017 and YouGov polls for the GLA show that Londoners want the Mayor and partners to act: 86% of Londoners feel tackling childhood obesity should be a top or high priority, and 62% believe that having healthier and cheaper food options on London’s high streets would have the biggest impact on improving healthy eating in the capital.
Being food insecure means that at times a person’s food intake is reduced and their eating patterns are disrupted because of a lack of money and other resources for obtaining food. The Survey of Londoners combines the categories of ‘low food security’ and ‘very low security’ and reports them as ‘food insecurity’.
The Children’s #Right2Food Campaign is a nationwide initiative to ensure every child in the UK can access and afford good food and was shaped by the findings of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry. Led by Young Food Ambassadors from across the UK and coordinated by the Food Foundation, the campaign calls for government action to tackle children’s food insecurity and puts forward its vision in the national Children’s #Right2Food Charter.
Joining young people at the Summit will be a range of high-profile speakers, including Anne Longfield OBE, Children’s Commissioner for England, and Debbie Weekes-Bernard, Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement.
“That so many children in London are unable to access nutritious food is a scandal,” says Kirsty McHugh, CEO of the Mayor’s Fund for London. “The government has so far failed to rise to the challenge of children’s food insecurity, particularly over the holiday period. In the meantime, therefore, we will continue our London-wide campaign to increase access to good quality, healthy and sustainable food for all children, regardless of their background.
“We are delighted, therefore, to be hosting the first ever summit on children’s food insecurity in the UK,” says McHugh. “We hope this event will spark conversations around food insecurity not only in London, but across the whole of the country.”
“Access to good, affordable food is a basic human right, but in a city that believes in compassion and justice, our children’s right to food goes unprotected,” adds Anna Taylor OBE, executive director of the Food Foundation. “How can we allow the growth and development of future generations to be restricted by poverty?
“The Mayor’s London Food Strategy and the trailblazing work done by local authorities have laid the foundations for a visionary approach to children’s food,” continues Taylor. “New data affords us an understanding of the scale and nature of the problem in the capital. We have renewed calls from children themselves for a Children’s Food Watchdog to tackle the magnitude and gravity of food insecurity in the UK. Young Londoners want their city to lead the way on securing every child’s #Right2Food: it’s high time the government ensures our most fundamental needs.”
“We live in one of the most affluent countries in the world, yet we have hundreds of thousands of children going hungry,” says Anne Longfield OBE, children’s commissioner for England. “It is heart-breaking to visit a school and find there is a food bank in the school itself. I’ve met children who tell me they don’t know what will be in the cupboard during the school holidays when they’re not receiving their school meal. The fact is, if you grow up in poverty you have fewer opportunities to live a healthy, prosperous life.
“Tackling child poverty and keeping children safe should be a moral endeavour for every government,” adds Longfield. “Our ambition should be for a country that is a great place to grow up for every child. The Government must make tackling food insecurity and child poverty a priority through changes to the benefits system and more investment in early years and family support.”
“Every young person has the right to a bright future,” says 16-year-old Christina Adane, board member of Bite Back Youth. “This starts with providing the nutrition they need to thrive. Let’s make health a priority for once.”