I welcome the Government’s implementation of the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme, which came thanks in no small part to the efforts of campaigners like Marcus Rashford and a coalition of food charities led by the Food Foundation.
Nevertheless, I remain concerned that some children will be left hungry this summer. We know that ahead of the pandemic the number of children living in or at risk of food insecurity in London far outstripped the number in receipt of free school meals. We know that children have experienced an increase in food insecurity over the past year. Using free school meal eligibility as the main criteria for being able to access the HAF programme risks excluding children and families in need.
I voiced my concerns about the Government’s approach to free school meals and food vouchers, which has made it more difficult to ensure that children have access to fresh, nutritious food, but I am committed to doing everything I can to help enable every child to access healthy food throughout the year. I am ready and willing to work with the Government to help make the HAF programme work.
Already this year I have worked with the Mayor’s Fund for London to help repurpose Kitchen Social, the fund’s flagship programme that supports grassroots community organisations to provide social and educational activities alongside free healthy meals during the school holidays. The scheme now provides a comprehensive training and quality assurance programme to help boroughs to successfully deliver the HAF programme. Now the Government has commissioned its own support for boroughs to deliver the programme, I am exploring further options to capture the learning from the delivery of HAF to inform policy decisions at a national and local level.
Funding for the HAF programme has not been confirmed beyond the end of 2021 and I urge the Government to commit to providing long-term support for addressing food insecurity both in and out of termtime.
Thank you, Mr Mayor, As you know and you have alluded to, last year the Government made the disgraceful decision not to extend the free school meal voucher scheme to cover the October half term and only U-turned on this after a mass public campaign led by one of the brilliant England Lions, Marcus Rashford [MBE].
However, children will receive this support for only 16 out of the 30 weekdays this summer. Mr Mayor, do you think this is good enough?
No. It is disappointing. As somebody who was on free school meals as a child, I know the difference that made during termtime in particular. It is an issue, and one of the things that not just Members of the Assembly but Members of Parliament (MPs) are lobbying the Government about as well because it means that, basically, the provisions are not provided all the time.
Thank you. The National Food Strategy was published this morning and three of the recommendations are things that you have been calling for from the Government: to extend the eligibility of free school meals, to fund the HAF programme for the next three years and to expand the Healthy Start Screen.
Will you now write to the Government and urge it to take on board these recommendations sooner rather than later? As we know, hungry children cannot wait for action.
I have only seen the media reports of the report. I have had no chance to read it yet. It does look interesting and we will be looking at it in detail and lobbying the Government to implement the report.
It is just worth pointing out there is no guarantee the Government is going to accept the report that has been published today, so those of us who believe this is an important issue need to work together, hopefully cross-party, so that we can say to the Government, “This is a piece of detailed work done by your own expert about a very important issue”, and persuade it to action the recommendations made in the report. Many of them, as you said, are things we have been calling for.
Yes. During the pandemic, we provided emergency funding, which is really important, supporting London-wide infrastructure to ensure food reaching families in need. As you will be aware, it is not just those people with children who are on free school meals, it is other families who are in poverty, food poverty in particular. We have worked with not just great councils, but the volunteer and community sector to make sure food was obtained by those who needed it and those in food insecurity.
One of the things you will be pleased to see is, as part of the London Recovery Board’s nine missions, one of them is the A Robust Safety Net mission. That is really important in this particular area. We are hoping to tackle this through our new Food Roots Incubator programme, which will be doing work in this area.
I will just make this one point in conclusion, though. Food insecurity is basically a manifestation of poverty and so what we are going to do is deal with the root cause of food insecurity, which is poverty. That is why it is really important to avoid mass unemployment in the 2020s like we saw in the 1980s. It is really important to support those who are in work to stay in work and, for those who are not in work, give them the skills they need to get back into work. Also, it is really important to make sure those who are working get a proper living wage that they can thrive on rather than one they just survive on.