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What food-insecure children want you to know about hunger

Blog Editor, IOE Digital15 September 2020

Rebecca O’Connell, and Julia Brannen.

Footballer and food poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford has rebuked Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake on Twitter for suggesting that parents who need help to feed their children are failing in their responsibilities.

Children growing up in poverty today recognise it is their parents’ duty to make sure they are fed adequately. But, like Rashford, whose family struggled with food security when he was a child, they know from experience that parents cannot always fulfil this obligation. In this context, they argue, government and others have a responsibility to act.

Children speak out about hunger

We know this because we have asked children about this exact issue as part of our research into food poverty. In a European study of low-income families, we asked young people between 11 and 16 years old who they consider to be responsible for making sure children have access to enough decent food. Most children argued that parents, government and organisations like schools should work together to achieve this. Phoebe, age 16, whose father had lost his job in the local authority, said:

If a family is unable to provide food then I think it’s up to schools and government to kind of make that up, if there is really nothing that they can do. So free school meals and fruit at break I think is really important. I think it’s really important that there is enough money for schools to be able to provide free school meals, breakfast club and fruit and stuff like that.

However, attributing responsibility to those in power did not mean children exempted parents from taking responsibility. On the contrary, several young people talked about the (more…)

International School Meals Day: who gets a ‘proper’ dinner, who gets less and who gets nothing?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital14 March 2019

Rebecca O’Connell, Julia Brannen and Abigail Knight.

If we had not included Portuguese young people in our cross national study of Families and Food in Hard Times*, the inadequacies in the free school meal system in England might not have not have been quite so obvious. But looking at the photo taken of a secondary school meal in Lisbon by one of our participants (Maria, age 12), the contrast with lunch in an inner London secondary school (photo taken by Jack**, age 12) is stark. This international school meals day we explore the two nations’ approaches to school food.

Screenshot 2019-03-13 at 21.30.00Lunch at the school canteen in Lisbon (left) and in London (right)

Irrespective of their ability to pay, the standardised menu for all children in Portugal includes a daily soup starter, meat and fish on alternate days, bread, and a piece of fruit or jelly for dessert. There is a three-tier system for paying for school meals (and (more…)

Greater entitlement to free school meals would reduce stigma, shame ­– and hunger

Blog Editor, IOE Digital5 June 2017

Rebecca O’Connell, Julia Brannen and Abigail Knight
The Conservative Manifesto proposes to end free school meals for all at key stage 1 and instead offer primary children free breakfast. What impact would this have?
For more than a century the UK government has provided free school meals (FSM) to children whose education might otherwise suffer. Today, school meals are a particular priority for children’s wellbeing, especially for the nearly 4 million children living in poverty. This is because of rising food prices, reduced household incomes – particularly for families with children – and cuts to the welfare benefit system. Recent research suggests that young people are not benefiting fully from free school meals because of issues of eligibility, adequacy and delivery.
Our ongoing study of 45 young people aged 11-15 and their parents in low income (more…)