A good breakfast goes a long way towards tackling child hunger
UK charity Magic Breakfast’s Carmel McConnell makes the case to government that we simply cannot afford the human and financial cost of hungry children.
Charities can’t just say “this is wrong, please help”, or “we’re all going back to Victorian times, how awful”. We have to build the answers, and make the business case work – long-term savings to the public purse are a good reason to stop child hunger. Magic Breakfast, which in term-time makes sure 17,500 children get a healthy school breakfast, aims to put the most compelling arguments to business leaders and to government policy makers, showing that we simply cannot afford the human and financial cost of child hunger at this present level.
Is education still the engine room of social mobility? I believe so, but when so many children in our most vulnerable communities are too hungry to learn, it’s clear that we need more practical help and investment from those business leaders who are rightly worried about whether we have the necessary pipeline of success for the future. Hunger, or malnutrition, fuels only a pipeline of failure, for the children, their community and the future skilled labour market. We cannot let a financial collapse stop children getting their education, and liberation.
Diseases caused by malnutrition are predicted to cost the NHS £13bn a year. Getting children and parents into the habit of a healthy breakfast is, according to doctors, something of a silver bullet in terms of achieving long-term improvements in diet. We’d love to work with more public health professionals who talk about early years prevention, especially for “hard-to-reach” families – school pastoral leaders tell us how powerful breakfast is in engaging these families, especially those who normally don’t cross the school threshold. And we only work in the most disadvantaged communities – 35% free school meal eligibility is our threshold, against a 17% average.
Like it or not, we have to find a way to get all political leaders, all business leaders to want to invest in the future life chances of every child. That negotiation is on. I believe we can get a deal – we just have to point to the financial benefits of improved child attendance at school, punctuality, concentration, behaviour, improved health awareness and better access to childcare for parents. We must not be scared to bargain hard for the £42 a year it costs to give a hungry child a good breakfast each day during term-time.
- Achieving Zero Hunger in London (18 July 2014)
- The government’s overall objective should be simple: zero hunger (3 July 2014)
- London should take a zero hunger approach to food poverty (25 February 2014)
We’re serious about galvanising the UK to change things for the children who most need our help. How? Building win-win deals with corporate partners, funders, independent schools, media and government. By lobbying (do look at the School Food Plan, Feeding Britain and the Zero Hunger London report for more) and doing everything we can to raise cash to actually deliver free, healthy breakfasts to more schools in the most challenging areas, every day. By framing the problem of child hunger in a new way, making the business case as well as the moral case.
Low-waged, working families are some of the most vulnerable, say our partner schools. They are easy to miss as they often won’t admit that they are struggling. Low-cost, high-quality, flexible childcare that makes it possible for them to go on working in school holidays is difficult to find. We know, for example, that our holiday hunger programme Magic Breakfast 365 reduces the childcare bill for parents, potentially creating more money for food. The only problem is that we haven’t yet found the national funding to offer the programme to all our schools.
Originally published in THE GUARDIAN | 5 August 2015