Thousands of Derbyshire children are experiencing food poverty – and going to school underweight and undernourished.
Figures from Financial Action and Advice Derbyshire (FAAD) show 23,079 families received emergency produce from one of the county’s food banks between April 2015 and March this year. Of those, 6,276 were children.
The worrying statistics emerged this week as a Bolsover school helped launch End Hunger UK, a national campaign which aims to end food poverty.
Bev Parker, policy and partnerships manager at FAAD, said: “There are several reasons for food poverty and people turning to food banks – including changes or delays to benefits, low income and debt.
“Many thousands of families are having to make the choice between heating and eating – and children are the helpless victims. Far too many youngsters are going to school underweight and undernourished and there can be significant impacts. Things really shouldn’t be like this in 2016.”
During the launch of End Hunger UK on Monday, children from Bolsover Church of England Junior School took part in a cookery challenge to create a meal from a food bank parcel.
The school runs a daily breakfast club which is attended by up to 60 pupils, giving them the chance to get the day off to a healthy start.
Headteacher Rowena Herbert said: “We’re committed to providing youngsters with healthy, nutritious meals. They help improve concentration and reduce restlessness throughout the day. In addition, healthy, nutritious meals aid children’s long-term bone, muscle and general physical development as well as their mental and emotional health.”
Gareth Greenwood, community project development officer for the Diocese of Derby, praised the End Hunger UK campaign – and said it was important to get more people talking about the issue.
He added: “With Brexit and a change in Government, the food poverty issue seems to have dropped down the political agenda – but that needs to change. Everyone should have access to good food.
“We’re choosing to highlight the damaging effects of food poverty on children because they are able to do little about it themselves.”
Twenty-six-year-old Stephanie Furborough, who used to work in Bolsover, also told the event of her experiences of food poverty.
She said: “Over five years, I often went without eating because I didn’t have enough money. It was a nightmare time. I hope this campaign makes a difference.”
• For more information about End Hunger UK, visit www.endhungeruk.org
County council action
During the October half term, hundreds of children will receive a free, healthy, nutritious meal as part of a Derbyshire County Council scheme to tackle holiday hunger.
The School Holiday Provision scheme is part of the council’s £528,550 Feeding Derbyshire project.
Councillor Dave Allen, the authority’s cabinet member for health and communities, said: “A few years ago, we didn’t have any food banks in Derbyshire – now there are more than 20.
“Meanwhile, far too many children are going to school hungry.
“What a sad indictment of our society.”
He added: “Our scheme ensures that children have free, healthy, nutritious meals throughout the school holidays.
“There are lots of children who are likely to eat significantly less during the holidays than they would during term time when they have access to food in school at lunchtime or from one of our breakfast clubs.
“Research shows that children who regularly miss out on meals are at a significant educational disadvantage as they can lack concentration and find it more difficult to learn.
“In Derbyshire, more than 9,000 children are eligible for free school meals and breakfast clubs and these youngsters are particularly at risk which is why we’re taking action to support them.”
The scheme ran during the six-week summer holiday when 19 groups ensured 700 children had free, healthy, nutritious meals.
The food was provided by East Midlands FareShare which works to distribute surplus produce in the area.
For more information about the scheme, call Jane Hicken on 01629 537675.
• There are 22 food banks in Derbyshire
• The county has three Super Kitchens which use FareShare food and volunteers to cook and provide nutritous low-cost meals for people
• According to a 2015 Derbyshire County Council report: “Food poverty is likely to remain a key issue for a substantial proportion of the people in Derbyshire for the foreseeable future”
• A recent report from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation suggested that as many as 8.4 million people in the UK struggle to put enough food on the table – equivalent to the entire population of London