Food insecurity: Marcus Rashford leads campaign to extend FSM to 1.5 million more pupils

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Fourteen per cent of UK families report having suffered from moderate or severe food insecurity in the last six months – affecting an estimated 2.3 million children.

This is up from pre-Covid levels of around 11.5 per cent and comes as the newly formed Child Food Poverty Taskforce – set up by footballer Marcus Rashford – has begun lobbying government for action on child food insecurity.

The figures come from new YouGov research – commissioned by charity The Food Foundation – involving more than 2,300 parents of school-age children.

The research finds that 12 per cent of adults living with children reported skipping meals because they could not afford or access food in the last six months; four per cent said they had gone for a whole day without eating at times.

And in 10 per cent of families, children were affected, including by eating unbalanced meals (five per cent), having smaller portions (one per cent) and skipping meals entirely (two per cent).

The Child Food Poverty Taskforce is lobbying the government for three policy changes – all of which are recommended in the government-commissioned National Food Strategy review, which is being led by restauranteur Henry Dimbleby and which published part one of its final report in July (Defra, 2020). The recommendations are:

  • Expand eligibility for free school meals (FSM) to include every child (up to the age of 16) from a household where the parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit (or equivalent). This would give 1.5 million more seven to 16-year-olds access to FSM.
  • Extend the Holiday Activity and Food Programme to all areas in England, so that summer holiday support is available to all FSM children.
  • Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 a week and expand the scheme to every pregnant woman and to all households with children aged under four where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent.

Part two of the strategy is due to publish in the spring and a formal response and plan of action is expected from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) six months later.

However, Mr Rashford’s Child Food Poverty Taskforce is stepping up the pressure now because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown on food insecurity and child poverty.

In June, SecEd reported research showing that 43 per cent of families claiming Universal Credit or Child Tax Credits had already cut back on food because of the lockdown (SecEd, 2020a).

The financial impact of the pandemic is set to push more families into poverty, too. Already in March, the latest household income statistics (for 2018/19) showed that 4.2 million children (around 30 per cent of all UK children) now live below the poverty line, with 72 per cent of these living in working families (SecEd, 2020b).

The Food Foundation, which is among the supporters of Mr Rashford’s Child Food Poverty Taskforce, says that its research shows the need for urgent action.

A statement said: “The government’s furlough scheme, increase in Universal Credit payments and the extension to FSM vouchers throughout the summer holidays were necessary stopgap measures to prevent the situation worsening. While 30-day food insecurity rates have improved since the first few months of lockdown, the data confirms the need for long-lasting policy measures to be implemented to ensure parents and children have access to a healthy diet.”

Earlier this year, Mr Rashford forced a government u-turn over its plans to drop the FSM voucher scheme at the end of last term. After he added his support to the campaign, the government hastily announced a £120m Covid summer food fund.

Mr Rashford has now written to MPs asking them to adopt the three recommendations of the National Food Strategy part one report. His taskforce has gained high-profile support from a number of supermarkets and well known food producers.

Mr Rashford said: “2.3 million children have been living in food insecure households over the last six months. The Taskforce stands together to offer these vulnerable children the platform they need to have their voices heard. I encourage everyone to stop and listen. The time for action is now.”

Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, said: “The situation for families and their children is precarious. It’s vital that the economic measures which have been put in place to protect struggling families are maintained and increased further in the autumn budget.”


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