I feel impatient because I want to eat and it hurts my stomach sometimes”

“I feel tired and stressed, like I can’t concentrate on lessons”

These are the words of children describing what it’s like to sit in the classroom with an empty tummy – a painful reality for 1.8 million school age children in the UK.

Pre-pandemic, six children in every class of 30 were living in a family experiencing food insecurity. This means children were forced to cut back on the amount and types of food they ate, and many were skipping meals altogether. As families have been hit by the economic impact of COVID-19, this number will have risen.

Classroom hunger drives an educational attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers. It’s one of the reasons why children from disadvantaged backgrounds leave secondary school over 18 months behind their better off peers, and are less likely to go on to further or higher education, and less likely to find highly paid, secure work. Disadvantaged children have also been worst affected by COVID-19 school closures, with less access to online learning, less access to a computer or stable internet connection.

Magic Breakfast has been focused on tackling classroom hunger for the past 20 years. Teachers tell us that after introducing school breakfast at their school, they notice that children’s energy, concentration and behaviour in the classroom improves. A more formal, independent, evaluation of our work found that Key Stage 1 pupils in schools with a universal, free school breakfast provision made an additional two months progress in reading, writing and maths over the course of an academic year, compared to children in schools with no such breakfast provision.

But charities cannot solve the problem of classroom hunger alone. We need Government action to ensure no child starts the day too hungry to learn. The Government has already done some great work through the National School Breakfast Programme – which currently supports over 1,800 schools and is implemented by Magic Breakfast with Family Action. But even now the Programme reaches fewer than 30% of the schools who need it, and this funding will run out in March 2021. We need a permanent solution to help all children at risk of hunger in the morning.

That is why Magic Breakfast is working with Feeding Britain and Emma Lewell-Buck MP on a School Breakfast Bill. The School Breakfast Bill builds on and scales up current Government funding for school breakfasts. It would guarantee all schools with high levels of disadvantage the support they need to provide a free school breakfast to children. Schools would receive extra funding to cover the costs of food, deliveries and staffing.

If successful, the Bill would ensure that all children in England start the day settled and ready to learn, allowing every child in the country to reach their full potential. It would boost educational attainment and contribute to greater economic productivity and growth.

How you can help

We’ve been inspired by the recent groundswell in public support for tackling child hunger, which is in no small part down to Marcus Rashford’s amazing activism on the issue. Now we need to translate that support into action. 

Right now the School Breakfast Bill (which was presented to Parliament on Tuesday 13th October) is supported by over 50 MPs from all parties, and we need to continue to grow this number for the Bill to have a chance of passing.

You can support us and the 1.8 million children at risk of hunger by taking a minute to email your local MP via our template asking them to back the much-needed School Breakfast Bill.

Thank you for your support!

[Comment piece written by Alysa Remtulla, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Magic Breakfast. The article was orginally published on the website politics.co.uk].