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UNICEF – the UN’s Children’s Fund – will provide humanitarian aid to Britain’s hungry children for the first time in its 70-year history, the charity announced yesterday.
Labour MPs branded the siutation a “disgrace” for one of the richest countries in the world.
Unicef will help to feed the children of about 1,800 south London families over the school holidays as part of its first-ever domestic emergency response.
The families in Southwark – who are struggling as a result of the Covid-19 crisis – will receive 18,000 breakfast boxes over Christmas, funded by a £25,000 Unicef grant to the School Food Matters charity.
Its food programme, which is also facilitated by Southwark Council and Southwark Food Action Alliance, will provide an additional 6,750 breakfasts to families over the February half-term break.
Unicef decribed the coronavirus pandemic as the most urgent crisis to affect children since the second world war.
Unicef UK director of programmes Anna Kettley said: “This funding will help build stronger communities as the impact of the pandemics worsen, but ultimately a longer-term solution is needed to tackle the root causes of food poverty so that no child is left to go hungry.”
School Food Matters founder Stephanie Slater said that the families would otherwise have been depending on foodbanks to get enough to eat.
She said: “The response to our summer breakfast-boxes programme has shown us that families are really struggling, and many were facing the grim reality of a two-week winter break without access to free school meals.
“By providing our breakfast boxes, families know that their children will have a great start to the day with a healthy nutritious breakfast.”
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the government should be ashamed that a charity which usually helps war-torn and disaster-stricken countries has had to intervene to feed kids in Britain.
“The fact that Unicef is having to step in to feed our country’s hungry children is a disgrace and [PM] Boris Johnson and [Chancellor] Rishi Sunak should be ashamed,” she said.
“Charities and businesses across the country have done a brilliant job stepping in where the government has failed, but it should have never come to this.”
Leeds East MP Richard Burgon condemned the government for its “political choice” to let people stay in poverty.
“The government could end UK child poverty by making the super-rich pay fair taxes. It refuses to,” he said.
Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana said that the initiative should not be necessary, and backed the call to increase taxes on the super-rich to “end child food poverty for good.”
The PM’s official spokesman said: “We would point to the substantial action we’ve taken to ensure that children don’t go hungry through the pandemic and I would point to the additional £16 million we pledged not too long ago to food distribution charities.”
That £16m was part of a £400m pledge that the government eventually announced in November to support poor families in England, after Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford campaigned for months against child hunger.
The move was a significant climbdown for the government, which had claimed that universal credit was adequate help for struggling families.
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