‘A postcode lottery with devastating consequences’

New children’s food watchdog needed to tackle ‘grave’ food insecurity in the UK, according to the Children’s Future Food Inquiry

Thursday 25th April 2019

Systematic action, led by Government is required to tackle the magnitude…of childhood food insecurity, according to one of the UK’s leading think tanks.

For the 4.1 million children living in poverty, the ‘restrictive effects of the rising costs of living, prevalence of low-paid, insecure jobs and the freeze on benefits’ mean their families are unable to afford the government recommended diet, a final report from the Children’s Future Food Inquiry (CFFI) states.

Despite the incredible leadership being shown in all corners of the British Isles demonstrating that food can build communities and underpin health and wellbeingmillions of children are missing out on this opportunity to lay the foundations of a better future’.

Responding to the report, the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health said food poverty has ‘devastating consequences’ on children and families.

The report focuses on food at pre-school, school and home settings, examining the policies and programmes in place intended to support children to eat well.

Over 12 months, the inquiry’s evidence gathering process included workshops with nearly 400 children aged between 11 and 16 years in 13 different locations across the UK, and an academic review of child food insecurity, commissioned by the National Institute of Health Research, as well a UK-wide policy review.

Published by the Food Foundation, an independent think tank focussed on the growing challenges facing the UK’s food system, the report states:

In a society that believes in compassion and justice, it is unacceptable that children's development is being restricted by the effects of poverty.

The number of children experiencing symptoms of food insecurity, or whose family income is evidently insufficient to afford a healthy diet amounts to between 2.5 and 4 million; between 20% and 30% of all children in the UK.’

The report calls for an independent watchdog for children’s food to be established immediately to provide energetic and committed leadership to deliver quick results’.

The CFFI wants a watchdog to consider conducting a full economic costing of the implementation of the rest of the inquiry’s recommendations, reporting to the UK’s parliaments with a list of priority actions by 2020.

 

Further recommendations include a comprehensive action plan to support women who want to breastfeed in all four UK nations; further development of food voucher schemes for pregnant women and mothers of young children; and implementation of mandatory and monitored quality standards for food served in childcare settings.

Other UK nations should follow Scotland’s lead by extending free meals and milk to those eligible for free childcare and early years provision, according to the report. An extension of free school meals to include all children living in poverty and those aged seven and upwards is also suggested, with the CFFI suggesting ‘expanded eligibility…will help to tackle stigma’ and increase uptake.

In Scotland, school food standards are already monitored and the CFFI wants to see that approach taken throughout the UK.

Further expansion of the sugar tax is recommended, alongside a redesign of VAT on food to favour healthier choices. The CFFI wants to see price and location promotions on unhealthy food banned, and for local authorities to be supported to implement much stronger measures against takeaways being opened around schools’.

It is also recommended that all four governments in the UK should look to expand food provision throughout school holidays, and examine the benefits of enshrining the cost of living and the cost of a healthy diet in legislation as a mandatory guide to be used when setting a minimum wage and benefit threshold.

 

Responding to the report, Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health condemned a ‘postcode lottery’ of support services:

It is unacceptable in 2019 that so many of the UK’s children continue to go hungry on a regular basis.

Food poverty can have devastating health consequences for children and their families, causing significant physical harm and emotional distress. Parents want to feed their children well, but for low income families in particular, a healthy diet is often not affordable alongside the increased costs of living.

While schemes exist to support families facing food poverty, access to these schemes is nothing short of a postcode lottery.

Extending and raising the value of the Healthy Start food voucher initiative, increasing free fruit and veg in schools, and placing tighter restrictions on junk food marketing on TV and near schools will all help to reduce the food crisis and inequality faced by families across the UK.

We urge all four UK governments to accept the report’s findings and implement the recommendations as a matter of urgency, to protect and support children’s health and development.”

 

The report comes after food insecurity among Scotland’s children was raised earlier this month by the Scottish Human Rights Commission – an independent public body that promotes and protects human rights in Scotland.

In a report submitted to the Scottish Government, the Commission warned that a right to food was not being realised for everyone in Scotland, with household food insecurity ‘unacceptably high’, leading to a call for a right to food to be enshrined in Scots law.