We have all become more aware of the need for free school meals in the last few months, but child food poverty did not start with Covid19. Surrey Lib Dems have called on the Surrey County Council administration to take steps to address this growing problem across the county.
Surrey is a comparatively wealthy county, but this generalisation hides a number of uncomfortable truths about the level of poverty experienced by those living in some of its poorer areas. Some families are already struggling to put food on the table for children in a county where housing costs are four times less affordable than the national average and are amongst the highest in the country.
The highly publicised campaigns this year to extend the provision of Free School Meals to cover holiday periods has brought the issue to public attention. Even before the full economic impact of the pandemic is known, the number of children eligible for Free School Meals in Surrey was 15,115, an increase of 14.1% on the figure in 2019.
This number will undoubtedly rise in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic where the increase in the number of benefits' claimants (at July 2020) in Surrey has increased by 313% in 12 months. By August this year, the number of families on Universal Credit had risen in some boroughs and districts by more than 250% compared to the number in February 2020.
A motion* from the Lib Dem Group will be discussed at the Surrey County Council meeting on 08 December.
In proposing the motion Cllr Fiona White (County Councillor for Guildford West and Borough Councillor for Westborough) explained:
"The County Council needs to start taking steps now to help mitigate the impact of food poverty on our most vulnerable children. Last year Lib Dem councillors in Guildford led a cross-party review 5 into the extent of the problem in that borough and found that in three of its neighbourhoods, approx. 33% of children were already living in food poverty. The report also highlighted there were 25 neighbourhoods across Surrey that featured in the top third of the most deprived areas in England. Four of these are in Guildford and include my own ward of Westborough, so I am very aware from conversations with residents, the difficulties they are facing. The situation post pandemic will only get worse, so the County Council needs to start working on practical solutions now."
*Full wording of the motion:
Lib Dems call for County Council to end child hunger
"This Council recognises that child poverty, especially child food poverty, is a systemic problem, not a temporary one which can be solved with short term measures.
It further recognises that the key objective that no-one is left behind must start with our youngest children.
It recognises too that breakfast clubs and other on-site initiatives delivered through schools make a huge difference not just to pupil wellbeing but also to the quality of learning and other outcomes.
Accordingly, Council resolves to: