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By Rhi Storer
United Nations (UN) agency, Unicef has launched a domestic emergency response in the United Kingdom (UK) for the first time in its more than 70-year history to help feed children hit by the Covid-19 crisis.
The UN agency, which is responsible for providing humanitarian aid to children worldwide, said the coronavirus pandemic was the most urgent crisis affecting children since the second world war.
A YouGov poll in May commissioned by the charity Food Foundation found 2.4 million children (17%) were living in food insecure households. By October, an extra 900,000 children had been registered for free school meals.
Unicef has pledged a grant of £25,000 to the community project School Food Matters, which will use the money to supply 18,000 nutritious breakfasts to 25 schools over the two-week Christmas holidays and February half-term, feeding vulnerable children and families in Southwark, south London, who have been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The food delivery firm Abel & Cole will also provide 1.2 tonnes of fruit and veg worth £4,500 to include in the boxes.
The founder and chief executive of School Food Matters, Stephanie Slater, said: “We’re so grateful to Unicef for providing this timely funding. The response to our summer breakfast boxes programme has shown us that families are really struggling and many were facing the grim reality of a two-week winter break without access to free school meals and the indignity of having to rely on food banks to feed their children.
“By providing our breakfast boxes, families know that their children will have a great start to the day with a healthy nutritious breakfast.
“Our breakfast boxes programme has also shown us that the threshold for free school meal eligibility is too low to capture all the families in need of support. That’s why we’re getting behind the national food strategy call for an extension to free school meal eligibility.
“We cannot continue to rely on civil society to fill the hunger gap as too many children will miss out on the nutrition they need to thrive.”
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: “The fact that Unicef is having to step in to feed our country’s hungry children is a disgrace and Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak should be ashamed.
“We are one of the richest countries in the world. Our children should not have to rely on humanitarian charities that are used to operating in war zones and in response to natural disasters.
“Charities and businesses across the country have done a brilliant job stepping in where the government has failed, but it should have never come to this.”
— 🌈 Angela Rayner 🌈 (@AngelaRayner) December 16, 2020
Her fellow Labour MP Richard Burgon tweeted: “Britain is one of the world’s richest nations. Unicef, for the first time ever, is now delivering emergency food to children here.
“Poverty is a political choice. The Gov’t could end UK child poverty by making the super-rich pay fair taxes. It refuses to.”
Anna Kettley, the director of programmes at Unicef UK, said: “This is Unicef’s first ever emergency response within the UK, introduced to tackle the unprecedented impact of the coronavirus crisis and reach the families most in need.
“This funding will help build stronger communities as the impact of the pandemics worsen, but ultimately a longer-term solution is needed to tackle the root causes of food poverty, so no child is left to go hungry.”
A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting the lowest-paid families through the pandemic and beyond. That’s why we have raised the living wage, boosted welfare support by billions of pounds and introduced the £170m Covid winter grant scheme to help children and families stay warm and well-fed during the coldest months.”