As a charity dedicated to feeding and nourishing the hungry, we at the Akshaya Patra Foundation know just how important a meal can be. If a child is well fed at school, it can give a crucial boost to their academic development, kickstarting their career and setting them up for life.
These early years are the most formative period in a person’s life. It’s not just nutrition – it’s nourishment.
After first starting our midday meal programme in India in June 2000, our operations have grown so that we now provide free school meals to 1.8 million school children in India every day. Now, following the opening of our first UK kitchen in 2020, we also provide 90,000 meals every year to children suffering from holiday hunger in and around the Greater London area.
But there is only so much that we, as a charity, can do to tackle the problems of malnourishment and malnutrition.
It’s why we feel compelled to add our voice and experience to the national conversation around the National Food Strategy White Paper. The government’s recently published white paper contains many welcome proposals. But – as the government’s own adviser has admitted – the strategy put forward does not go nearly far enough.
Despite the awareness that campaigners such as Marcus Rashford and Henry Dimbleby have raised in recent years, the report is lacking any ambition. It cannot hope to fully tackle the problems this country faces.
At a time when the cost of living is skyrocketed, people on low incomes are finding it harder than ever to afford healthy food. The Department for Work and Pensions now estimates that 9% of children in the UK were living with food insecurity in 2020-211.
We believe that the government must urgently increase funding for holiday hunger programmes. We also join the calls of LACA, a professional body representing school caterers, and Henry Dimbleby, founder of Leon, to lower the eligibility threshold for free school meals.
After weeks of political chaos, the UK now has a new Health Minister, and will shortly have a new Prime Minister. We hope that the change in stewardship will also now lead to the change in policy that is so desperately needed if we are to truly tackle the ongoing and very unfortunately growing problems of childhood malnutrition and holiday hunger.
Akshaya Patra continues to support families struggling with holiday hunger within reach of its Watford Kitchen, and advocate for those facing continued food insecurity around the UK.