Giving children free food is not enough

Monday 6 August 2018

CAROLEOn Friday 3rd August the Guardian published “Food banks appeal for help to feed children during school holidays”

I am horrified by the reality that in 21st century UK, the 5th largest economy, anyone at all, let alone children, has to suffer the humiliation of using a food bank.  I sincerely hope we are not becoming immune to these headlines which demonstrate the literal breadline being endured by so many.

The piece also said “while the number of adults seeking supplies from food banks during the summer months decreased in 2017, the number of children needing support shot up”.  

I cannot explain why the number of adults may have dropped in the summer months but the figure is merely 1,000 out of a total of over 130,000.  Hardly a major shift.  The reason for the figure for children rising is most likely due to the fact that they are not getting a meal at school.

I fear that the presentation of this and other articles about children’s poverty make it sound like children are not living within a family unit (which fortunately most children are) and are turning up un-accompanied to the food bank while their carers sit at home eating a hearty meal. 

You cannot separate children’s poverty from parental poverty, you cannot address children’s poverty without addressing the poverty of the adults who are caring for them.

In the same period covered by the Trussell Trust in this Guardian piece, 2017-18, Young Women’s Trust reports showed that:  10% of all parents under 30 reporting using a food bank compared to 3% of those who are not parents; 46% of mothers under 25 reported missing meals in order to feed their children and 27% (yes 27%!) had used a food bank.  This shows that parents are under huge financial pressures and struggling to put their children first.

So what should we do for the 4 million children, that Margaret Greenwood, the shadow work and pensions secretary reminds us are growing up in poverty.  It cannot be enough to increase the charitable provision of healthy meals for children, however laudable that is.  We need urgently to address household poverty, particularly in the younger generation.  After all, they are the most likely to have young children.   

As well as an efficient benefits system which does not leave people in short term dire straits we must address in-work poverty.  Last year Cardiff University published research which showed that a record 60% of British people in poverty live in a household where someone is in work.  So having a job is no guarantee of avoiding the need to use a food bank.  For young people, so many of whom are paid even less than the minimum wage or the Living Wage, we must ensure that work pays enough for them to be able to put a roof over their head and a meal on the table for themselves AND their children.  We must enable them to be the parents and carers they want to be.