“In the fifth richest country in the world, in a country which now has one hundred and seventy-seven billionaires, we still have two point 6 million families and children that are struggling to access nutritious and warm food each day.”
By Logan Williams, NEU activist and Arise Festival volunteer
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the pre-existing economic divides across Britain as shown by the current cost of living crisis. One of the key manifestations of this economic divide can be found within contemporary British education.
This divide has manifested itself through students across all communities from rural and coastal areas to the inner cities being unable to afford nutritious meals and, throughout the pandemic this number reached a peak of 2.6 million children living in households which struggled to access healthy food or missed meals in April 2022 alone.
In order to try and counteract these issues when the manifest in the classroom, countless education workers have attempted to solve these divides by the provision of food out of their own pockets to students each day.
Alongside this, we have seen children across Britain begin to fall into school meal debt due to their families struggling to provide lunches as their family fell just outside of the current restrictions on free school meal eligibility within England. But we have seen an alternative to these failures through the radical Welsh Labour government; led by Mark Drakeford, who are now beginning to offer universal free school meals across all primary schools in Wales.
It is for this reason that Education Unions, the former British Children’s commissioner and, the Head of two large multi academy trusts across Britain last week published a letter to Rishi Sunak. The joint letter notes “the intensifying cost-of-living crisis means many more are now struggling to afford school lunches… We see the devastating reality of children coming to school unable to afford to buy lunch, because their family circumstances means they fall outside the restrictive free school meal eligibility criteria.”
The signatories seek to gain three key goals which are the immediate expansion of free school meals to all children of universal credit recipients, the creation of a more fair and equal education system through the introduction of universal free school meal provision. Mike Short, UNISON’s national secretary for Education workers stated “It is shocking that thousands of families are living below the poverty line yet are currently ineligible. A move by the government would offer a lifeline at this critical time.
Fellow signatory Kevin Courtney Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union stated in a press release “No child should be going hungry during the day yet millions are. This has a huge impact on their learning and well-being. The pandemic highlighted the desperate situation many families cope with day in day out”.
It is shameful that; in the fifth richest country in the world, in a country which now has one hundred and seventy-seven billionaires, that we still have two point 6 million families and children that are struggling to access nutritious and warm food each day.
We must continue to build support for the cause of equality and fairness within education to tear down the economic barriers in the place of our future generations. Every socialist, trade unionist and progressive must take up this fight by organising in support for vital campaigns launched by trade unionists such as the National Education Union’s No Child Left Behind campaign or, the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union supported Right to Food campaign led by socialist MP Ian Byrne.
- Logan Williams is an activist for the NEU and a volunteer for Arise: A Festival of Left Ideas.