Marcus Rashford CREDIT  Oleg Bkhambri (Voltmetro)

Marcus Rashford Photo: Oleg Bkhambri (Voltmetro)

As many as 13.6 per cent of adults living with children reported moderate or severe food insecurity in the past six months.

Alarming new figures from the Food Foundation show that four million people live in these affected households, including 2.3m children - a figure higher than pre-Covid levels of 11.5 per cent of households with kids.

Some 10 per cent of parents/guardians, affecting an estimated 1.9m children, reported that food insecurity had affected their children in a variety of ways in the last six months, forcing them to rely on only a few kinds of low-cost food to feed their children (six per cent) and provide unbalanced meals (five per cent), and to resort to smaller portions (one per cent) or skipping meals entirely (two per cent).

The Food Foundation said the data, taken from a YouGov survey, demonstrates the need for urgent action to address the high numbers of families experiencing food insecurity. The government’s furlough scheme, increase in Universal Credit payments and the extension to Free School Meal vouchers throughout the summer holidays were necessary stopgap measures to prevent the situation worsening, it said. But while 30-day food insecurity rates improved since the first few months of lockdown, the data confirms the need for long-lasting policy measures to be implemented to ensure parents and children have access to a healthy diet.

England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford’s new Child Food Poverty Task Force has enlisted the support of national supermarkets including Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose, as well as food brands Heinz and Kellogg’s, online food delivery service Deliveroo, and charities the Food Foundation and Fareshare, to endorse three policy recommendations included in Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy Part I, ahead of the Chancellor’s Budget and Spending Review.

These include expanding eligibility for the Free School Meal scheme to include every child from a household where the parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit; Extending the Holiday Activity and Food Programme to all areas in England; Increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 per week and expanding the scheme to every pregnant woman and to all households with children under four where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent.

Rashford said: “As a sportsman, I have always found such power in unity and teamwork, and I’m thrilled that such influential voices have put any allegiance aside to join me on my mission to move the conversation of child food insecurity forward. 2.3m children have been living in food-insecure households over the last six months.

'The Task Force stand together to offer these vulnerable children the platform they need to have their voices heard. I encourage everyone to stop and listen. The time for action is now. I’m proud and I’m humbled to see such a reaction and commitment from the food industry, and I am confident that together we can help change the lives of those most vulnerable for the better.”

Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, added: 'The situation for families and their children is precarious. It’s vital that the economic measures which have been put in place to protect struggling families are maintained and increased further in the Autumn Budget given the economic scenario we are facing. Too many families are missing out with devastating, life-long impacts on our children. Our data shows that government action really matters and has a direct impact on people’s lives and the future health and wellbeing of our children.”