On Tuesday evening I was horrified to see photos on social media of meagre and insufficient food packages given to parents for their children on free school meals.
What began with one parent sharing a photo of a miserable looking food package that had been provided for her child, has sparked a national conversation about the way in which this government has treated children and those in poverty over the course of the pandemic, and rightly so.
With a few slices of cheese, a tin of beans, bread, and a handful of fruit, most of the packages I saw online clearly did not provide enough food to feed a child for a week.
Many parents shared stories of their shame and anger. A local mum told me that she simply couldn’t understand why food vouchers had been replaced with food packages, stripping her of the basic freedom of choice.
Indeed, many parents would have been able to get more food with a voucher than these packages provided. None of the packages I saw appeared worth their estimated value. This raises an alarming thought, that there are companies profiting from child hunger.
Estimates of the nutrition of these packages came well below recommended calorie intakes, and were even denounced by the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, who described them as containing “scraps” of food, unhygienically wrapped in odd quantities with no use-by date information. In short, these packages were undignified and insulting.
We know just how important nutrition is for a child’s health, wellbeing, and educational attainment. At a time when the most disadvantaged children are already missing out disproportionately on schooling, ensuring they do not go hungry should be a top priority. For all of its talk of “levelling up”, the government has left these children far behind.
Despite being one of the richest countries in the world, we have one of the highest rates of hunger in Europe, with around 8.4 million people living in food poverty. This rate is rising, as is the number of people relying on food banks across the UK.
The COVID-19 pandemic has displayed the best of our community, with charities and local groups stepping in to provide healthy and tasty meals throughout lockdown. Yet our government, which has consistently ignored the problem at its roots, now shows its inability to coordinate the most fundamental of tasks, feeding our children in need.
The Prime Minister described these packages as “disgraceful”, yet their contents are strikingly similar to the guidelines his own government put out. Either he is unaware of decisions made in his name, or he is trying to backpedal and cover up another failed contract.
This scandal gets to the heart of the waste and carelessness we have seen from the government in recent months. Contracts are handed out to failing companies with links to the Conservative party, while ordinary people suffer. Our children deserve far better than this, and it is high time the government realised.