Young People in Northern Ireland call for a Children’s Food Watchdog

Children in Northern Ireland, part of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry, has launched a new report calling for an independent UK wide Children’s Food Watchdog to lead the charge on tackling children’s food poverty throughout the UK.

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 the UK. It has spent 12 months investigating children’s food insecurity in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, and the project’s final report pulls together direct input from hundreds of young people, frontline staff, academics and experts. Dame Emma Thompson has given her support to the campaign and is the Children’s Future Food Inquiry Ambassador.

Food poverty is a growing issue in Northern Ireland and statistics have shown that in 2017 there were 5,307 babies born in to poverty as well as 30,750 children under the age of four and 94,378 school aged children living in poverty.
Evidence for the report was gathered from workshops with nearly 400 children in 13 different locations around the UK, an academic review of child food insecurity, polling of young people, submissions of evidence from people working with children, a UK-wide policy review and secondary analysis of Government data on the affordability of a healthy diet.

Pauline Leeson, CBE, Chief Executive of Children in Northern Ireland said: “It is shocking that in 2019 children and young people are going hungry. The number of people using food banks in Northern Ireland has risen by over 13% in the last 12 months with more than 36,000 three-day emergency food packages given to people – with more than 15,000 of these going to children. We should be providing our children and young people with the best start in life, instead we are hindering their growth, affecting their confidence and making it impossible for them to learn and develop.  The growing number of children in Northern Ireland living in food poverty is unacceptable and more needs to be done to support these children and their families in order for them to have access to healthy and affordable food. No child should be going hungry. The Inquiry’s report has recommendations that are easy and straightforward to implement and we must implement them now. We cannot wait any longer.”

Arta Barene, aged 15 and Klaudia Welke, aged 17, both from Portadown, are two of 15 young ‘Food Ambassadors’ (all aged between 10 and 18 years) and the #Right2Food Charter in the report presents their recommendations for loosening the grip of food poverty on children in Northern Ireland 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.

Young ‘Food Ambassador’, Arta Barene said: “Food poverty is a growing issue that can affect us all at some point in our lives. There is a huge stigma around this issue meaning not many want to admit that they may be struggling. We need to combat this stigma so food poverty is no longer a ‘taboo’ topic and people can access the help they need”.
With the first stage of the Inquiry concluded, the committee, which is made up of MPs and civil society experts; including leading organisation, Children in Northern Ireland, will focus on establishing the Children’s Food Watchdog, and its first action will be to conduct an economic costing of the full range of measures proposed by the committee and young people as solutions for the problems identified by the Inquiry.

These measures aim to tackle the big differences in provision across the UK and drive some minimum standards, including extending the entitlement of free school meals to the 23% of children not entitled to them who are missing lunch due to lack of money; ensuring the funding provided for free school meals is actually sufficient to buy a healthy lunch; and ensuring that more families benefit from the fruit and veg vouchers provided through Healthy Start, with the report highlighting that the Free Fruit and Vegetable Scheme is not currently implemented in Northern Ireland.
Dame Emma Thompson, the Children’s Future Food Inquiry ambassador said: “In a wealthy society that claims to value compassion and humanity, how can we tolerate the injustice of millions of children going hungry?

“In face of the government’s refusal to help, the Children’s Future Food Inquiry has brought together hundreds of young people to hear about their lived experience of food poverty, and it’s time we listened to what they say. It’s the younger generation who will deliver the change that’s so urgently needed: we must act now to ensure every child in the UK has their right to food.”
Sharon Hodgson MP, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West, Shadow Minister for Public Health and Co-Chair of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry: “As Co-Chair of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry, I have heard directly from young people about their experiences of food poverty.
“I believe that no child should be going hungry or experiencing food poverty. Children are falling through the safety net, and families are having to rely upon charities and service providers for things such as breakfast clubs, holiday provision and foodbanks. These children, and their families, need support from the Government in order to have access to healthy and affordable food.

“The Government must take this issue of food poverty seriously, and it must include young people in the conversation.”