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As paediatricians, we are shocked by the refusal of the UK government to extend the provision of free school meals in England to children from low-income backgrounds during the school holidays. Childhood hunger is an issue that should transcend politics.
Few would disagree that one of our most basic human responsibilities is to ensure children have enough to eat. Every day, we see the impact of hunger and malnutrition in our work as paediatricians. It is not unusual for us to care for children who don’t have enough to eat or who don’t have access to a substantial meal outside of what is provided in school. Good nutrition is at the heart of health, wellbeing and development for children and young people. Without it, children’s health outcomes worsen and, with that, so do their life chances.
More than 4 million children in the UK live in poverty and around one-third of those are reliant on free school meals. The pandemic has entrenched and exacerbated this reality; families who were previously managing are now struggling to make ends meet because of the impact of Covid-19. It is not good enough to send them into the holiday period hoping for the best, while knowing that many will simply go hungry.
Food vouchers will not solve this problem, but they offer a short-term remedy. We call on the UK government to match the pledges of the Welsh and Scottish governments and the Northern Ireland executive, to continue to provide children from low-income backgrounds with free meals over the coming weeks and to then extend this at least until the Easter school holiday, as they have done in Wales and Scotland. We pay tribute to Marcus Rashford and his powerful campaigning. His advocacy for children and young people has been a source of inspiration in difficult times. We are proud to stand with him on this issue.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Open letter from UK paediatricians about free school meals | Society