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Rayner column: The major issue of child food poverty

In her latest column, Ashton-under-Lyne MP Angela Rayner talks about an issue which she says affects a large number of families in her constituency.

This week I want to talk about an issue that affects a large number of families within my constituency - child food poverty.

With the school holidays now in full flow, I know that some families will struggle to make sure their children are fed without the assurance of the Free School Meals they are provided with during term time.

In 2019-20, there was no region in England where child poverty was not a major problem. Even before the pandemic, four million children in the UK were growing up in poverty.

The pandemic shone a light on the issue when schools closed with barely any notice.

The government were forced to make a u-turn after being shamed by celebrities such as Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford when they initially voted against providing free school meals to those in need over the Christmas holidays.

Child poverty wastes potential and harms our country’s success and prosperity.

More importantly, it hurts children, not just in the future, but as they grow up. It harms their health and holds back their learning. It damages their sense of self-esteem and wellbeing.

I have visited many schools within my constituency where teachers go into school early to make breakfast for pupils, often out of their own pockets, so that the children are nourished and ready to learn.

The National Food Strategy plan recommended that eligibility for free school meals be extended but the Government’s Food Strategy, published in June, made no such guarantee and instead stated that eligibility will be kept “under review”.

With prices soaring in the shops and on energy bills, as well as the cost of petrol, I am worried this shows a lack of vision or a plan for Britain.

We must ensure children are not going hungry and missing out on the fun, enriching childhood experiences that we want every young person to benefit from.

We need an ambitious plan to put children at the heart of our ambition for Britain. Right now this should include breakfast clubs to give every child a healthy meal to start their day, more time to play with their friends and extra time for teachers to provide targeted recovery support, ensuring every child is supported to achieve and thrive. Our children deserve better.

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