Today’s blog comes from Kerry McCarthy, Member of Parliament for Bristol East.
For the past year, I’ve been taking part in the Children’s Future Food Inquiry (CFFI). It’s the first time the views of children and young people living in food poverty have been collated in one study, and we heard some really moving stories from kids about the impact that hunger has on them, including their ability to concentrate in class, as well as the shame and stigma that comes with being on free school meals.
The inquiry has now ended, and I held a parliamentary debate to reveal its findings. I called on Ministers to implement the Children’s Right2Food Charter, which was drawn up in response to the evidence we heard over the course of the year.
The Charter calls for all children to be guaranteed a healthy lunch at school, and for parents and carers to be helped to put healthy food on the table at home. Other measures include reducing the stigma around free school meals and limits on the advertising of junk food.
This Government has done little to address the food poverty crisis facing our society, which the UN Rapporteur called ‘a social calamity and an economic disaster’ in his recent report on the impact of austerity on human rights in the UK. I am proud that individuals and organisations across Bristol are, however, leading by example.
Food insecurity and hunger are very real problems in Bristol, with 1 in 3 families living in poverty. This already distressing statistic rises to a shocking 50% in more deprived areas like Lawrence Hill.
The school holidays are a particularly difficult time for those families who rely on free school meals during term time; sometimes this could be a child’s only decent meal of the day. Last summer Feeding Bristol – a local charity which the Mayor and I helped set up – ran a holiday hunger scheme across the city, providing around 3,000 meals to children who would otherwise have gone without. We did have some Government funding for a pilot last year but, despite its success, we have not been given any funding for this year. We are therefore appealing to the business community for funding to carry out this crucial work.
For many low-income families the difficulty of putting food on the table is compounded by a lack of access to affordable shops or greengrocers selling fresh produce. Such areas, where it is difficult to access good-quality and affordable food, are known as ‘food deserts.’ A national study last year by Kellogg’s identified three areas in Bristol as food deserts including Hartcliffe and Withywood – which were, shockingly, deemed the second and fifth worst in the whole country.
Poverty is also a factor in childhood obesity, as junk food is often cheaper and more easily accessible than healthier alternatives. There are more takeaways in poorer areas than in the more affluent parts of the city. Two Bristol mums – Suad Yusuf and Sahra Hasan – have done great work to expose the inequalities of takeaway culture in our city, recently featuring in a BBC documentary about the number of fast food restaurants in their home of Easton compared to those in Clifton – a staggering 44 to seven.
While this may all make for rather bleak reading, the positive news is that pioneering work is taking place across the city to promote healthy and sustainable food. Bristol already holds a Silver Sustainable Food Cities Award – just the second city in the UK to do so – which recognises efforts to transform Bristol’s food culture through things like safeguarding the diversity of food retailers, increasing urban food production and supporting community food enterprises. Bristol has now launched its bid to become the first Gold Sustainable Food City in the UK by 2020, and improving food equality will rightly be key to achieving this, along with a focus on procurement and on tackling food waste.
I will have a further opportunity to raise the findings of the CFFI in a parliamentary debate in the coming weeks, at which point I hope to see Ministers taking child hunger seriously by supporting efforts – like those seen in Bristol – to end food insecurity for all.