Kerry McCarthy MP: Working to combat child hunger and food insecurity
Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy writes for the Fishponds Voice
SHOCKINGLY, an estimated 27 per cent of children across Bristol are living in poverty. Many will be living in food insecurity, meaning there are times when their family can’t afford to put food on the table, or cannot buy the full variety of foods needed for a healthy diet.
For the past year the Children’s Future Food Inquiry (CFFI), of which I am a member, has been listening to young people telling us about their experience of food insecurity, during which we heard many moving accounts of how debilitating constant hunger can be for children. I recently held a parliamentary debate on the findings, in which I urged the Government to implement the Children’s Right2Food Charter – a call to action to address some of the issues around child hunger.
One of our asks is for a Healthy Lunch Guarantee, which includes supporting ‘holiday hunger’ schemes. The loss of free school meals during the holidays is a financial hit for families on low incomes. This is particularly true of those living in ‘food deserts’, where there is a lack of access to affordable supermarkets or greengrocers selling good quality fresh produce. A national study last year by Kellogg’s identified an area around Fishponds, Staple Hill and Speedwell as one of three food deserts in Bristol, along with two areas in South Bristol - Hartcliffe and Withywood - which were deemed the second and fifth worst in the whole country.
Last summer Feeding Bristol – a local charity which 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 hope to provide a similar scheme this year, and are appealing to businesses, grant providers and the council to help fund this crucial work.
Foodbanks, like the one at Fishponds Baptist Church, also provide a lifeline for families in food poverty. Sadly, demand is on the increase, with 15,757 emergency supplies of three days food given to people in the Bristol area last year alone.
Poverty is also a factor in childhood obesity, as junk food is often cheaper and more easily accessible than healthier alternatives. This is one of the reasons I objected to the new McDonald's on Fishponds Road, which, despite strong opposition from many residents, is set to open within 800 metres of three schools. I am pleased that the Mayor has since introduced measures to distance new takeaways from schools.
A great way to encourage and enable healthier eating is through local food growing. There are some fantastic examples of this in Fishponds, such as the free-to-access food garden on Straits Parade run by Incredible Edible Bristol, and Feed Bristol on Frenchay Park Road – an urban wildlife and gardening hub where people can get involved in community food growing and take home some fresh produce for their efforts.
Whilst it is important to celebrate and support local initiatives which work to reduce child hunger and food insecurity, we need action from the Government too. It should be a source of national shame that the UN rapporteur has described poverty in the UK as “systematic” and “tragic”.