The Government should offer more free school meals to help more than four million UK children living in homes affected by food poverty, campaigners have said in a letter to the Chancellor and Health Secretary.
Leaders representing more than 150,000 doctors and medical students, and over half a million nurses, midwives, dieticians and support staff have joined a chorus of teachers and poverty campaigners demanding free school meals are immediately offered to thousands more children as part of the ongoing FEED THE FUTURE campaign.
High profile healthcare figures including Dr Adam Kay, Dr Alex George and Dr Chris van Tulleken – and the College of Medicine’s Chair, Dr Michael Dixon – have also added their voices to the campaign.
On November 3rd, the campaign published a letter sent to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Health Secretary Gillian Keegan urging action to protect children’s health as the nation faces its worst cost of living crisis for generations.
A section of the letter reads: ‘Every day, healthcare professionals see the impact of hunger and malnutrition in their work’ and highlights the spiralling number of families struggling to get enough food. According to the Food Foundation, 800,000 children are living in families already identified as requiring Universal Credit to survive, and are still not getting access to free school meals.
‘Many of these children have to skip lunch completely or rely on cheap, unhealthy food that is damaging to their long-term health,’ the letter says, pointing out that without good nutrition, rapidly growing children risk obesity with its associated health complications, reduced capacity for academic achievement and lifelong disadvantage in the job market.
It adds: ‘We urge the UK Government to act now to protect the health of the nation’s children by expanding the Free School Meals scheme to all children in desperate need to guarantee them a hot, nutritious meal at school, for their health, the economy and the NHS.’
The group responsible for the letter which includes the British Medical Association and leaders of the medical and nursing Royal Colleges, also highlights a recent report commissioned by Impact on Urban Health from the analysts PWC, which estimated that expanding free school meals to primary school children would benefit Britain’s faltering economy with an £8.9 million annual boost in improved productivity and health.
‘We believe all children in England should be guaranteed access to the food they need to lead healthy lives,’ the letter concludes.
The Feed the Future campaign is urging people to write to MPs calling for Free School Meals to be offered to all children in homes receiving Universal Credit.
READ MORE STORIES
- The College of Medicine’s Beyond Pills Campaign fights to stop over-prescribing
- Dr David Unwin on beating diabetes with diet and how his own practice saved £68K
- ‘Patients deprived of better outcomes because of lack of awareness of social prescribing’
Dr Helen Stewart, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) Officer for Health Improvement, said of the campaign: ‘RCPCH stands alongside the Feed the Future campaign in urging the UK Government to expand the Free School Meals scheme to all children in desperate need to guarantee them a hot, nutritious meal at school, for their health, their education, the economy and the NHS.
‘As a paediatrician I’ve seen first-hand how essential good nutrition is during the critical period of rapid growth and development that is childhood. We are seeing the impacts of poor nutrition every day, with both poor growth of deprived babies and children on the one hand, and rising child obesity on the other.
‘Teachers are telling us about seeing hungry children in school and the impact on their wellbeing and learning. Many parents have no option but to buy cheaper lower quality and less nutritious food in order to feed their children and pay their bills. I believe we have a moral responsibility to help these families and to ensure that all children have enough to eat.’