EMMA LEWELL-BUCK: Grinding poverty is part of daily life for many children

22nd October 2020 - Sheilds Gazette

This morning nearly two million children that we know of will have arrived at School ready to learn with a gnawing hunger in their stomach, their day will be marked with worry about when they and others in their family might be able to eat again.

There will be a significant impact on their learning because hungry children don’t learn, no matter how bright and determined they are and no matter how amazing or dedicated their teacher is. Numerous studies have shown the links between nutrition and cognitive development with hungry children suffering developmental impairments, language delays, and delayed motor skills, not to mention the psychological and emotional impact which can range from withdrawn and depressive behaviours to irritable and aggressive ones. Research conducted prior to the pandemic found rising levels of hospital admissions for children due to malnutrition and a resurgence of Victorian diseases associated with hunger such as rickets and vitamin deficiencies.

Schools in South Shields have said that without this Bill next year they may have to charge for or cease breakfast provision, they have also shared with me heart-breaking stories of children complaining of persistent hunger and stomach pains, for some the last time they had any food was their school dinner the day before, and for many of those on free school meals waiting until midday is too long, their learning has already been impacted on. Sadly, grinding poverty is part of daily life for so many of our children, poverty that was and is entirely avoidable. There is nothing inevitable about poverty it is politically driven, it has been perpetuated by a series of cruel Tory Governments over the last 10 years. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights last year after his comprehensive visit to the UK, highlighted how these ongoing policies of austerity, welfare reform measures and inaction on low paid insecure work has had tragic social consequences. Coronavirus has only exacerbated these poverty levels, in the first five weeks of lock down over 2 million children experienced food insecurity. We have seen over one million more children becoming eligible for free school meals and a staggering four million children are living in poverty.

For many children they are hungry every single day, every day of the year with no let-up in sight, if it wasn’t for our local foodbanks Key 2 Life and Hospitality and Hope, or excellent Schools and the kindness of our neighbours then things would be so much worse. With significant cross-party support and support from Marcus Rashford MBE and Yousef Islam (Cat Stevens) I am confident this Bill will have success, but for every hungry child in Shields and beyond I won’t rest until it does.

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