This October our CEO and Policy & Engagement Department attended the Conservative, Labour, and Scottish National Party (SNP) conferences. Though we are weary from the rich fringe programmes and exhibition spaces, we are energised by the recognition, warmth, and excitement we felt from the charity sector and politicians of all parties at each conference.
It was our largest presence at the party conferences to date thanks to the generous support of our long-standing corporate partners Kraft Heinz that enabled us to have such a significant footprint. With their help, we were able to participate in fringe events hosted by our friends the Fair Education Alliance (FEA) and the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) at both Conservative and Labour Party conference, and exhibit for the first time at Labour Party Conference.
At Conservative Party Conference, we were overjoyed to see our early morning event oversubscribed as our CEO Dr Lindsey MacDonald sat down with the Secretary of State for Education Gillian Keegan MP, Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, Jessica Prestidge, and Elijah of the FEA’s youth steering group. Together we discussed the state of education since Covid-19 and how school breakfast provision can help with the big challenges around attendance and the impact of hunger on learning. It was also great to chat to MPs, and others, about the progress that has been made on school breakfast by the Conversative Government with continued investment in the National School Breakfast Programme.
At Labour Party Conference, we were overwhelmed by the interest from Labour members, MPs and guests that came to our stall. We were well-positioned to engage with policymakers and our friends across the sector to talk about the benefits of breakfast when you put the needs of children and young people at the heart of your approach. It was great to see Labour’s continued commitment to their school breakfast pledge announced at last year’s party conference. With the help of Kraft Heinz, we designed some iconic umbrellas to give to conference attendees that became the talk of the exhibition space. It was a joy to see MPs, councillors, and guests carry them as they enjoyed the Liverpool ACC.
Our fringe event at Labour Party Conference was similarly well-attended and we were joined by Children’s Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza and Nick Martin from Sky News. We had illuminating discussions on the pressures facing children and young people following the Pandemic, and how the top two largest pressures facing parents are the cost of living and childcare costs.
At SNP conference in Aberdeen, it was clear that elected officials still remain committed to their pledge of universal provision of breakfast in primary and special schools. We arrived at conference hoping to articulate the need for a swifter implementation of that pledge. We managed to speak with half of the Scottish Government Cabinet and expressed a need for them to understand the wide intersectional benefits of breakfast.
Overall, we finished the party conference season confident that so many senior political figures are champions of school breakfast, bringing on new supporters and renewing support amongst familiar faces. The near unanimous endorsement and enthusiasm we received will be of interest to policymakers across the country as they craft responses to the crisis in food insecurity, absences in our schools, and growing attainment gap at the expense of disadvantaged children and young people.
As politics settles into the final year of the electoral cycle in Westminster, we are excited to see how we can leverage the support of Parliamentarians in England and Scotland, as well as private and third sector supporters built through conferences to end hunger as a barrier to learning, for good.