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Nearly a quarter of a million children in London don’t have access to enough food, report reveals

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4 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Small toddler boy shows empty bowl sitting at dark wood table with wooden spoon

Around 250,000 children are expected to be living with food insecurity in the capital, according to a new report from Labour London Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark, Marina Ahmad.

The ‘Growing Hungry’ publication was developed by Ahmad in consultation with several charities and NGOs including, the Trust for London, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), 4 in 10, Trussell Trust, Coram, Gingerbread and Pecan.

Using data from the 2021-2022 Survey of Londoners, the report estimates that 14% of parents in London have children experiencing low or very low food security, which amounts to around 237,129 food-insecure children aged under 16 living across the city.

These findings also show that children with single parents in London are more likely to struggle, with over a quarter experiencing food insecurity in comparison to 8% of kids living in a two-parent household.

With inflation having risen several times since the survey was carried out between November 2021 and February 2022 however, Ahmad expects the total number of children experiencing food insecurity to now be closer to a quarter of a million.

The number of young people living going hungry varies across different boroughs. Newham is the hardest hit region in Inner London with 10,489 kids struggling to access food, while Croydon is the worst affected area in Outer London with 11,208 children not having regular access to food.

Including September 2022 analysis from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), Ahmad’s report also shows that out of all the kids living in poverty in the city, 41% cannot get free school meals.

Across England, 800,000 of kids living in poverty don’t have access to free school meals. 210,000 live in London, which equates to one in four children according to the CPAG.

While the London boroughs of Newham, Tower Hamlets, Islington, and Southwark offer Universal Free School Meals schemes for all primary school students, the report notes there is a growing risk that these initiatives will be scrapped due to tightening local authority budgets.

In 2021, Newham Council was close to ending its Free School Meal scheme, but managed to find a way to retain it. Other councils also remain in a precarious situation as the capital’s local authorities are expected to provide more services with less central government funding.

Following the publication of ‘Growing Hungry’, Ahmad said: “It is heartbreaking that children go to school, go out to play and go to bed, hungry. My report highlights that a quarter of a million children in London are living this experience, every day. These devastating figures will increase further as the cost of living continues to push families into poverty.

“People are no longer choosing between eating or heating. All too often they cannot afford either. The Government must take immediate action to make sure that incomes come up to meet the cost of living.”

Ahmad has set out several recommendations for tackling childhood food insecurity in London as part of the report including:

  • Calling on the Mayor of London to develop a Childhood Hunger Commission for the capital
  • Substantially increasing people’s incomes and providing immediate monetary support for low-income families to help them tackle the cost of living crisis
  • Including healthy food monitoring and support services for mothers and infants as part of the Childhood Hunger Commission, to guarantee children can access nutritious food before they start primary school
  • Asking the Mayor to lobby the Government to extend the Universal Free School Meals scheme to all children in early years education, primary school, and secondary school, in both term time and school holidays

In September, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan reiterated his call for universal school meals for all primary schoolchildren after City Hall analysis revealed families could save up to £440 during the academic year, and that an extra 270,000 kids would benefit from the scheme.

Khan said: “The Government must act now to introduce universal free school meals for all primary school children.

“This would help build a better London for everyone, saving families hundreds of pounds a year, ensuring all primary pupils are eating a healthy, nutritious meal at school and also eliminating the stigma associated with being eligible for free school meals, to increase uptake among those who need it most.”

Find out how Young Food Ambassadors at the Food Foundation are campainging for children’s access to food in this Food Matters Live Podcast episode:

Food poverty – the teenagers fighting to be heard


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