School children

As many as 400,000 children in London are going hungry and suffering food insecurity, a troubling new report has claimed.

The first-ever London Children’s Food Insecurity Summit, organised by the Mayor’s Fund for London, is taking place today (13 January), in partnership with the Food Foundation and Greater London Authority (GLA). Children speaking at the event have called for action from the government, the Mayor of London and local authorities to ensure every child in London can access a healthy diet.

Research for the event found that one in six (17 per cent) of parents in the capital have children who experience food insecurity, along with 36 per cent of single parents and 32 per cent of black Londoners. As many as one in five adults (1.5 million Londoners) are also food insecure.

A new London-focused briefing from the Children’s #Right2Food Campaign draws on the Mayor of London’s recent measure of food insecurity. The Survey of Londoners found that half (49 per cent) of parents with children experiencing food insecurity are socially isolated.

Being food insecure means that at times a person’s food intake is reduced and their eating patterns are disrupted because of a lack of money and other resources for obtaining food. The survey of Londoners combines the categories of ‘low food security’ and ‘very low security’, and reports them as ‘food insecurity’.

Sixteen per cent of parents from food-insecure households reported being unable to provide balanced meals for their children, and nine per cent said their children did not always have enough to eat. These figures could increase if food prices rise following the UK’s departure from the EU, summit organisers said

In response to the findings, young representatives for the Children’s #Right2Food Campaign are unveiling their key policy recommendations in the London Children’s #Right2Food Charter. The charter proposes a new, independent Children’s Food Watchdog, and asks for the introduction of Universal Free School Meals so that everyone who needs them receives them, including migrant children with no recourse to public funds.

The London Charter also calls on the government to provide statutory funding for free holiday provision, including food, for young people eligible for free school meals. This builds on the work of the Mayor’s Fund for London’s Kitchen Social campaign, which currently supports over 100 holiday clubs across the capital to provide free food and activities for young people in their neighbourhood.

At present, despite limited funding from the Department for Education for piloting free holiday provision in a small number of local authorities, there is no nationwide statutory provision for children eligible for free school meals over holiday periods.

Obesity problem

London’s food sector contributes nearly £20 billion a year to the city’s economy, but at the same time, 70 per cent of young parents (16-24 years) in London have children who are food insecure, and 37 per cent of children in London are overweight or obese.

Even as the capital of the fifth-richest economy in the world, hunger in London exists alongside extremely high childhood obesity rates, the Food Foundation points out. Across London there is a marked socio-economic gradient for childhood obesity, which is three times as high in the city’s poorest boroughs compared with their wealthiest counterparts.

This is unsurprising considering a Food Foundation report claiming that calorie for calorie, healthy food in England is three times more expensive than unhealthy food, and one in five jobs in London pays below the London Living Wage.

Findings from the Great Weight Debate 2017 and YouGov polls for the GLA show that Londoners want the Mayor and partners to act: 86 per cent of Londoners feel tackling childhood obesity should be a top or high priority, and 62 per cent believe that having healthier and cheaper food options on London’s high streets would have the biggest impact on improving healthy eating in the capital.

'Scandal' of food insecurity

Speaking prior to the summit, Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Mayor’s Fund for London, said: “That so many children in London are unable to access nutritious food is a scandal. The government has so far failed to rise to the challenge of children’s food insecurity, particularly over the holiday period. In the meantime, therefore, we will continue our London-wide campaign to increase access to good-quality, healthy and sustainable food for all children, regardless of their background.

“We are delighted, therefore, to be hosting the first ever summit on children’s food insecurity in the UK. We hope this event will spark conversations around food insecurity not only in London, but across the whole of the country.”

Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, added: “Access to good, affordable food is a basic human right, but in a city that believes in compassion and justice, our children’s right to food goes unprotected. How can we allow the growth and development of future generations to be restricted by poverty?

“The Mayor’s London Food Strategy and the trailblazing work done by local authorities have laid the foundations for a visionary approach to children’s food. New data affords us an understanding of the scale and nature of the problem in the capital. We have renewed calls from children themselves for a Children’s Food Watchdog to tackle the magnitude and gravity of food insecurity in the UK. Young Londoners want their city to lead the way on securing every child’s #Right2Food: it’s high time the government ensures our most fundamental needs.”