In the midst of a global pandemic, the Government should be acting to tackle the issue of food poverty as part of their response to Covid-19.
At a time where bringing our country together and uniting to fight the global Covid-19 pandemic, our Government has launched the most devastating attack on working class communities since Margaret Thatcher set about starving striking miners in during the 80s. This unjustified barbarity has been replicated by Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and the rest of the Conservative MPs, including Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly, who have voted against providing free school meals to the poorest families in the UK over half term and the Christmas holidays.
Over the last decade, the number of children growing up in poverty has increased to unprecedented levels. The Food Foundation estimates that close to four million children do not have access to a healthy or balanced diet, which means that one in three are not getting the nutrition they need or, worse, missing meals. In one of the biggest economies in the world, the thought of children going to bed hungry should be unimaginable.
Sadly, for so many, this is the reality. It is a thought that keeps me awake at night. I have such vivid recollections of my campaign at the 2019 General Election, speaking to parents and families across Huntingdonshire who had worries about where their next meals were going to come from, skipping meals to ensure their children ate, people who hadn’t turned their heating on in years despite the blistering cold as they couldn’t cover the bills and even teachers breaking down recollecting the times they had seen children in their classrooms looking for food scraps in bins.
Last year, I was the only local candidate who put any sort of effort into getting out and speaking to voters on their doorsteps and in town centres. Before that, I was acutely aware of the struggles faced by so many in our towns, but even I couldn’t have predicted just how great those struggles were and just how far-reaching the implications of low wages, job insecurity, a broken welfare system and government cuts to vital public services could be, even in some of our more stereotypically affluent areas.
That was before the outbreak of Covid-19. The situation now is so much worse.
The Government response to the issue of food poverty or insecurity has been absolutely shocking. In the last few days, we’ve seen Greater Manchester held to ransom by the Prime Minister and Chancellor, who have been hell-bent on providing as little to the region as possible. Their package for Greater Manchester equates to less than £8 per head across the area. This is simply not acceptable and their callousness has put businesses, jobs and entire communities at risk - and their contempt for working class people has been laid bare.
Once again, it is the inspirational campaigns from charities, community groups, businesses and individuals like Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford that are leading the fight against poverty. As well as this, restaurants up and down the country have stepped up and have committed to providing free school meals to local children. In the midst of a global pandemic, the Government should be acting to tackle the issue of food poverty as part of their response to Covid-19. Instead, they have left some of the most-deprived areas in the UK to pick up the pieces for their own failure - just as they did when cuts to public spending and austerity brought whole communities and services like the NHS on their knees.
As a lifetime resident of Huntingdon, I am appalled that our MP is complicit in depriving children in Huntingdon, St Neots and St Ives of food over half term and the Christmas holidays. These unprecedented times call for action not ignorance, perspective not politics, and I call on Jonathan Djanogly to do what is right: reject the demonisation of the working classes, fight to make sure no child goes hungry over the holidays and work with charities and organisations to support a national strategy to end food poverty in the UK.
Chairman, Huntingdon Labour Party