We must do better for our children, this government has left too many of them hungry

Labour candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, Sarah Sackman, on tackling hunger in Barnet

A selection of tins, jars, packets and bottles of food - in green containers at a foodbank
Credit – Radar

Like most children my two girls have been off school these last two weeks, enjoying their Easter break. It’s been wonderful spending some extra time with them when I can, backed up by playdates and childcare cover for the days when my husband and I are working. The school holiday balancing act; part and parcel of modern parenting.

Sadly, for thousands of families across Barnet, so too is worrying about where the next meal will come from. This is especially the case when school is closed and with it the breakfast clubs and lunches that do so much to stave off children’s hunger pangs. 

It sounds Dickensian, to think of children going hungry. But it’s a situation that has been worsening in recent years, as we have moved from the austerity years of the David Cameron government to the cost of living crisis we are facing under Rishi Sunak. Last year, food bank use soared to record levels across the UK, reaching tragic peaks in April, July and December – when kids were home for the holidays.

In Barnet alone more than 152,000 people relied on donated food to feed themselves and their families in 2023 – one in four residents. That’s a quarter of our local population not being sure where their next meal comes from or how they can prevent their children from going hungry. 

Sadly, the Tory cost of living crisis means this trend looks likely to continue. Foodbanks in Childs Hill, Finchley and Edgware have reported huge increases in use over the last few months, as the cost of living has continued to bite.

I have seen first-hand the brilliant work of our local food bank volunteers in Finchley and Childs Hill but the fact that their efforts are needed and demand is growing is a stain on our society. 

After 14 years of Conservative rule, we face nothing short of a national crisis. Four million children in food poverty, four million children who do not have access to the food they need to grow, learn and thrive. The food they need to concentrate in school, enjoy playtime with their friends, or sleep well at night. 

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Londoners are at least lucky to have a Labour mayor who has used his powers to extend a lifeline to struggling families.

Under the mayor’s Free School Meals policy every primary school pupil in the capital now has access to free school lunches. This puts up to £500 per year back into parents’ pockets and just if not more importantly, it helps our children to learn and feel happier at school, setting them up properly for a bright future. 

I am proud to say that, if elected, a Labour government would go even further to ensure that no child starts the day hungry by providing free breakfast clubs in every primary school too. 

Every one of us knows that a child with a full stomach is going to have a better day, be better behaved and better able to focus on learning and socialising. 

But even still, six times a year – every term and half term break – including the long summer break, plus bank holidays, time that should be spent resting and playing becomes a period of stress and anguish for families across Barnet. In July last year alone, with the kids home for the summer, 15,500 of our friends and neighbours had to rely on volunteers and donations to meet their most basic needs. 

Along with extending Free School Meals for another year, Sadiq Khan has also extended a vital partnership with London charity the Felix Project to help provide nutritious meals to families during the school holidays. A vote for Sadiq on 2 May and a vote for a Labour Government will ensure these lifesaving initiatives continue.

As I talk to people in Finchley and Golders Green I am told over and over again that the cost of living is making life miserable. Their choices are stark. The mother who told me that despite having two jobs she can’t afford to buy her kids new school uniforms, she has to prioritise money for the essentials – food, rent and electricity, all soaring costs as the Conservative cost of living crisis bites. The parents going without so their kids can be fed. So many stories, so many people going hungry on our doorstep, not just children but people of all ages. It doesn’t have to be that way.

After almost 14 years, it is time for a change, for the sake of our children and their future.

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