In January a group of MLAs and MPs heard from a range of organisations who are sharing evidence about food poverty with the Children’s Future Food Inquiry committee.

Those giving evidence hope that the Children’s Future Food Inquiry will highlight the pervasive nature of food insecurity in the UK which they say affects every aspect of families.

“If you feel hungry it can make you feel sick and you can pass out in lessons”

Young person, Children’s Future Food Inquiry participant, UK

“If you don’t eat enough at lunch it makes you tired, it messes with your brain as you can’t reach your full potential as you’ve not been fed”

Young person, Children’s Future Food Inquiry participant, UK

A new survey of 11-18-year-olds conducted by Childwise found that a quarter of children who do not receive free school meals have gone without lunch because they couldn’t afford it. The young people’s  report details that children often arrive in school without eating breakfast and with no money for snacks. Frequently the money allocated for free school meals did not buy enough food to satisfy hunger, but it was felt that no one is responsible for ensuring that the children had enough to eat.

“My mum gets £60 and my dad gets £200 through benefit, it’s not enough money for two weeks. Once you’ve paid the bills there is not enough for food”

Young person, Children’s Future Food Inquiry participant, UK

Although there is still no national measurement of food insecurity in the UK, rates are estimated to be some of the worst in Europe, and disproportionately affect the 4.1 million children living in poverty. Food insecurity can lead to both malnutrition and obesity, with households forced to rely on the very cheapest foods, which are often nutrient-poor but calorie-rich.

The stigma around food poverty was identified as a key barrier to children seeking support, and the young people called for a dedicated hunger teacher in schools to educate people about hunger, food insecurity and food banks, which they believed would help reduce stigma and encourage peers and teachers to support those in need.

The Children’s Future Food Inquiry is a nationwide investigation into children’s food insecurity in the UK, and aims to provide a platform for children and young people to share their experiences and help shape solutions to the problem. An event was held at the House of Lords and followed by evidence hearings in each of the four UK nations, where policy makers will hear from academics, frontline staff, civil society experts and those with lived experience of children’s food poverty. The Northern Ireland evidence hearing will be chaired by the chair of the All Party Group on Children and Young People Steven Agnew and Chief Executive of Children in Northern Ireland, Pauline Leeson CBE.

Dame Emma Thompson, Children’s Future Food Inquiry ambassador,said: “It beggars belief that in a country as wealthy as the UK so many children are not only living in poverty, well below the breadline, but actually going hungry – especially in the holidays. I am truly ashamed when I consider our hungry children and am determined that we demand real action from the Government, instead of empty promises, so that every child in the UK has enough good food to eat regardless of what their parents earn, where they go to school or where they live.”

Sharon Hodgson MP, Chair of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry committee said: “It is shameful that, in one of the world’s richest economies, so many children are going hungry and left wondering where their next meal will come from. Parents shouldn’t be put in a position where they themselves skip meals in order to feed their children – however, we know that this happens all too often. I hope that the Inquiry will draw the Government’s attention to this very serious problem, which is much more prevalent than first thought. We need serious action from the Government if they want to ensure that future generations will grow up healthy.”

Pauline Leeson, Chief Executive of Children in Northern Ireland, said: “The situation on the ground is critical.  I don’t use that word lightly.  It is also heart breaking to see so many children, young people and their families in need.  Parents are at crisis point and going to bed hungry while they try their best to cater to their children’s emotional and physical needs at the same time as stressing about money.  The support that is needed for these families cannot be underestimated.”

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