Make Free School Meals accessible to everyone

17th Apr 20 by Christina O'Sullivan

At this incredibly difficult and uncertain time, the right to good food should be ensured for everyone.

In these uncertain times, I like many others have been turning to my kitchen for comfort. When things feel out of my control, I know I can at least make a nourishing stew or bake a cake to share with my housemates. Thankfully, amidst images of empty supermarket shelves, the community supported agriculture scheme Growing Communities that I am a member of continues to provide me with fresh produce while ensuring a fair price for farmers. In short, I am very lucky.

We have all seen the videos of Italians singing to each other from balconies, maybe like me you are finding solace in the kitchen or connecting (from a safe social distance) with your neighbours. Unfortunately, for many people the current crisis has exacerbated problems they already faced. Children in families who were already struggling to access good, nutritious food are finding life even harder under the impacts of the Coronavirus crisis. Alarming new figures from the Food Foundation show that since the lockdown began, four times as many adults are experiencing food insecurity as were before it started. Sadly, this is likely to be reflected in children’s experience as well.

To address this, the government has created a Free School Meals voucher system so that families whose children receive Free School Meals can access extra food. But it’s not enough: many families cannot use the vouchers because they are not accepted in the food shops or markets near them. Take Merseyside, for example: the map here highlights this disparity in Merseyside, where there are no local places for families to use their vouchers. Currently the vouchers can only be used in a limited number of food retailers, principally large supermarket chains. The vouchers cannot be used in discounters such as Aldi (update: Aldi is now included in the scheme) and Lidl, or the Co-op or more local convenience stores. The situation is even more precarious for those families in need without a car, as they will be unable to safely go to the supermarket while practising social distancing. I firmly believe that families should not only have the capacity to purchase food from local shops and markets but also the agency to be able to decide from where and how they buy their food; these vouchers are failing to enable families to do just that.

At this incredibly difficult and uncertain time, the right to good food should be ensured for everyone. But what can we do about it? Now, more than ever before, we need to come together to demand change. We need to ensure that families can access good food wherever it is most suitable for them to do so. Join me in telling the government to make these vouchers accessible to all who need them.




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