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UNICEF to step in to feed hungry British children for first time in its history


Creditfix > Blog > Coronavirus > Coronavirus updates > UNICEF to step in to feed hungry British children for first time in its history


Although food poverty is an issue often associated with the developing world, it’s now a growing concern in the UK. Issues like the free school meals campaign and the rise of food banks have brought food poverty to the nation’s attention, and the pandemic has made the situation worse.

Last week UNICEF, the children’s humanitarian organisation, committed to a campaign to feed hungry children in the UK – for the first time in the organisation’s history.

In this blog we’ll explore food poverty in more detail, including what it is, why it’s a growing issue in the UK, and the ties between debt and food poverty.

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What is food poverty?

According to End Hunger UK, food poverty can be defined as “the inability to acquire or consume an adequate or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so”.

It can be a short term problem that occurs as the result of a sudden change in a person’s circumstances, like losing a job or as a knock-on effect of the pandemic. It can also manifest itself as a long-term issue – the consistent inability of a person to access or prepare the nutritious meals necessary to sustain a healthy diet.

Food poverty is an issue that is often associated with poorer countries and populations, however, as demonstrated by UNICEF’s recent intervention in the UK, food poverty can unfortunately occur in any society.

Who are UNICEF, and why are they stepping in now?

The United Nations Children’s Fund, better known as UNICEF, is the UN agency that’s sole focus is providing humanitarian aid to children.

Established by the United Nations in New York in 1946 in order to meet the needs of children in post-war Europe and China, UNICEF works across over 190 countries globally and seeks to protect the rights of every child.

UNICEF places a particular focus on protecting the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in our society. It’s the world’s largest provider of vaccinations, and major initiatives include child health and nutrition, safe water and sanitation, and the provision of quality education.

While UNICEF usually focuses its attention on developing nations, from Gabon and Guatemala to Sri Lanka and Somalia, it has recently launched an emergency response in the UK for the first time in its more than 70-year history.

UNICEF has pledged a £25,000 grant to the School Food Matters community project, which will be used to supply 18,000 breakfasts, as well as fruit and veg, to schools in South London.

Why has food poverty in the UK reached such a critical point?

School meals

There has been a highly-publicised campaign to provide free school meals to children throughout the majority of this year. The pandemic has seen schools close up and down the country, depriving many children of a key source of nutritious meals.

Food banks

The UK has had a problem feeding its population for well over a decade now, best demonstrated by the growing reliance on food banks – voluntary hubs where struggling people can go to get essential supplies they may not otherwise be able to afford. Stats show that the number of people using emergency food banks for at least 3 days’ worth of food has grown from 40,898 in 2009/10, to 1,900,122 in 2019/20.

The Coronavirus pandemic

While food poverty is a long-term issue in the UK, the problem has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak, with UNICEF explicitly saying that the pandemic was the most urgent crisis affecting children since the second world war.

What is the UK Government doing about food poverty?

The UK Government’s record on food poverty has been consistently poor. In May of this year, the hunger charity Food Foundation commissioned a YouGov poll that found that 2.4 million children – or 17% of all kids in the UK – are living in ‘food insecure’ households.

Now that we’re approaching the Christmas period, with a coronavirus vaccine still some months away for most of us, the food poverty issue is only likely to get worse in the short term. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network, predicted back in September that we can expect to see a 60% increase in the use of food banks in the UK by Christmas 2020.

Since the revelation that UNICEF was stepping in to help the UK’s hungry children, the backlash has been fierce. The UK is the world’s 6th richest nation based on GDP, making the fact that it seems incapable of feeding its population all the more perplexing.

Does debt contribute to food poverty?

Three of the most common factors for causing serious debt issues are a sudden drop in income, an unsteady income, or a sudden unforeseen expenditure.

In a 2017 report by the Trussell Trust, they found that almost all of the respondents to their survey had encountered at least one of the above factors associated with debt on their road to food insecurity.

In our own research as part of Creditfix’s 2020 debt insight report, we found that debt often takes precedence over buying food – with nearly a third of people (32%) saying they would be likely to cut down on food shopping in order to save money.

Where can I go to get some extra support?

If you find yourself in a financial crisis and you’re struggling to put food on the table, you should talk to the Trussell Trust. They’re the UK’s biggest food bank network and will provide 3 days’ worth of emergency supplies to anyone who is referred to them.

You can reach out directly on 0808 2082138. This number is closed between 23rd December and 4th January, however if you need support over the Christmas period, you should contact your local food bank using the Trussell Trust food bank finder.

If your money worries are causing you to forgo food, Creditfix can help. Our expert debt advisers can give you free advice on making your money go further, or help you find a formal debt plan to get your finances back on track. Call us today on 0808 253 3493.

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