7 May 2021

The issue of child hunger in this country is not a new one, Magic Breakfast was created as a response to hunger in classrooms 20 years ago. Our founder, Carmel McConnell MBE, was shocked to learn that just minutes from the financial heart of London, children were arriving at school hungry and unable to concentrate on their lessons.  What is shocking is that this is still an issue today and the situation is getting worse.

Covid has pushed an issue that for many was hidden, but is now out into the limelight. The publicity created by Marcus Rashford’s campaigning has opened a lot of people’s eyes to the issue of food insecurity.

Recent Government data shows that in 2019/20 child poverty in the UK increased by 200,000 children, to 4.3million.

For the first time the Government also measured food insecurity in 2019/20 and found that households with children were more likely to experience food insecurity. 11% of households with children had to compromise on the quality of quantity of food they ate, skip meals or go without all together, impacting 1.7 million children.

This was prior to the pandemic and with the added challenges of lost income and school closures, the issue has undoubtedly been exacerbated. The Food Foundation found 2.3 million children live in families who experienced food insecurity during the pandemic.

We are often asked (sometimes quite aggressively) “Why can’t parents feed their own kids?”

While the reasons for this are myriad and at times, complex, the simplest answer is many families do not have enough financial resources to meet a basic standard of living.

Many teachers have reported a sharp increase in instances of hunger when universal credit was rolled out in their communities.

Under Universal Credit families must wait five weeks for their first payment, which for families living week-to-week, who often have no savings, has a big impact and means sacrifices must be made.

Research from the Trussell Trust highlighted that in areas where Universal Credit roll-out had been completed, emergency food bank usage was 39% higher than areas that did not yet have full roll-out (Trussell Trust, 2019).

Given that the number of people claiming Universal Credit almost doubled during the pandemic (98% increase), with 6 million people on Universal Credit in January 2021, this is very worrying.

We also know that being in employment does not guarantee a basic standard of living. 75% of children living in poverty live in working families, recognising that food insecurity does not just impact workless families. Although some childcare costs can be claimed back under Universal Credit, these costs need to be paid upfront before being reimbursed, an option not available for many, limiting their access to paid work or the number of hours they can take on.

We also know that some families who are legally in the UK with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) visas or on asylum support often fall through the cracks, unable to access many Government resources or being unaware of these resources. As Magic Breakfast is not means tested or linked to benefits, we are there for these families.

However, it isn’t always low income that gets in the way. There can be barriers such as temporary accommodation and long journeys to school, particularly for those with disabilities who attend a special school not in their area, which can result in the child having to leave so early they do not have time for a healthy breakfast or are hungry again upon arriving at school.

Covid has certainly exacerbated many of these problems, but is has also made more people aware of the issue.

At Magic Breakfast we work to ensure that regardless of external barriers or unexpected changes in circumstances, a child is able to start their day with a healthy breakfast to make the most of their learning. 

Katie Freeman is Magic Breakfast's Impact, Data and Research Manager.