As schools in the UK prepare to reopen their doors after months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, experts are warning that hunger could become the “single biggest challenge” they face. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, 800,000 children living in poverty in England do not currently qualify for free school meals. With many families struggling to make ends meet due to the economic fallout from the pandemic, headteachers are bracing for an increase in the number of children coming to school hungry.
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“Last winter, I already had a group of children who stood round the radiator outside my office every morning because they had no heating on,” said one headteacher from Manchester, who wished to remain anonymous. “I dread to think what state some of them will be in after months without proper meals.”
Universal free school meals would go a long way towards alleviating child hunger, but the government has so far resisted calls to introduce them. With schools set to reopen in the coming weeks, pressure is mounting on ministers to take action.
“No child should go to school hungry,” said Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union. “The pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing levels of child poverty, and we are now facing a growing crisis. The government must do the right thing and introduce universal free school meals.”
According to the latest figures from the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest provider of food banks, there has been a sharp increase in the number of families turning to them for help since the pandemic began. In the six months between April and September 2020, the trust distributed 1.3 million food parcels, compared to just over 500,000 in the same period last year.
“The pandemic has pushed more people into poverty and left many struggling to put enough food on the table,” said Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust. “No one should be going hungry in Britain today.”
What do you think about this issue? Should the government introduce universal free school meals to help tackle child hunger? Let us know in the comments below.
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