Clinical Lead for Public Health Dietetics and Food Cardiff member, Emma Holmes, facilitated young people from across Wales as they came to Cardiff to call upon First Minister Mark Drakeford for urgent political action on child food insecurity and on school food policy.
Two young Food Ambassadors, Bethan and Fayeth from in north Wales, joined pupils from Cardiff secondary schools to present to the First Minister their Children’s #Right2Food Charter at the launch of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry’s final report.
Fayeth Jones, 12, from Rhyl, said: “I am a young carer and a volunteer at The King’s Storehouse Foodbank. Everyone should have the same chance in life and not go through food poverty. Everyone should know about healthy diets and should be educated that not everyone can afford to get food.”
Beth Rhodes, 12, from Prestatyn, said: “Last year I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I had to learn a lot about food and nutrition in a short period of time. Food nutrition for young people is really important in all areas of their lives, from school, to home, to ensuring children have a balanced diet during the school holidays”.
The Children’s Future Food Inquiry is the first attempt to directly and systematically seek the views of children and young people living in poverty across Wales and the rest of the UK. It has spent 12 months investigating children’s food insecurity in each of the four UK nations, and the project’s final report pulls together direct input from hundreds of young people, the frontline staff, academics and experts.
The report comes at at time when the UN’s expert on poverty and human rights reported that “the UK Government’s policies have led to the systematic immiseration of millions across Great Britain”.
The Children’s Future Food Inquiry reveals that a priority issue for young people in Wales is free school meals and that urgent action is needed to by the Welsh Government to radically reform school food policy. Instead of ensuring that children in families on a low income receive a nutritious meal, in Wales, the reality is that many children living in poverty are not actually eligible. 55,000 children living in poverty in Wales are missing out on free school meals.
For every child who is eligible and doesn’t take their Free School Meal entitlement, schools miss out on £1,150 of pupil development grant. This is money that can provide extra teaching support, school equipment, additional enrichment activities or enhancement of school facilities. Parents of children in reception and year 7 may also miss out on the pupil deprivation grant access fund, £125 additional funding to help with the costs of new uniform and school trips.
The #Right2Food Charter included in the report presents the Inquiry’s young ‘Food Ambassadors’ (aged between 10 and 18 years) own recommendations for loosening the grip of food poverty on children in the UK and improving their access to enough nutritious food. Their key proposal is for a new Children’s Food Watchdog, which will stand as an independent body with children and young people involved in its leadership.
Emma Holmes, Cardiff and Vale UHB Clinical Lead for Public Health Dietetics, who became involved in this project through her work on the ground-breaking School Holiday Enrichment Programme, Food and Fun, was inspired by the children’s honesty and frankness in what they were demanding. She said, “My role in this event was simply to provide a platform from which these young people could make their voices heard. They highlighted for all of us present the real life stories that are a result of the issue of food poverty in Wales. This inquiry and charter will hopefully raise awareness of these issues on a national level and, by doing so, will raise the profile of the ongoing work to address them.
“It is crucial now that we in the health, public and governmental sectors take serious action to act upon what these young people have called for, taking inspiration for our work from what is written in the charter. We have an obligation to act now to ensure the wellbeing of our future generations and avoid the consequences of food poverty for these people in later life. By ensuring their right to, nutritious food and by giving them skills and education around preparing and cooking healthy meals, we can work to ensure that they live long and healthy lives.”
Katie Palmer, from Food Sense Wales, is working on the Welsh element of the Inquiry said: “This report has shown us that policy makers simply aren’t hearing the scale of the challenge. Statistics on poverty, despite their gravity in Wales, can never have the same impact as the voices of these young ambassadors. They have drawn into sharp focus real, lived experience and offered policy makers solutions too. We must all listen. Food Sense Wales commits to working closely with partners in Wales and the UK to ensure the Children’s Right to Food Charter is actioned”.