New research paints a stark picture of food poverty and child hunger in London. Ipsos MORI surveyed 1,000 parents and children across the capital, finding that a third of children report having trouble paying attention at school because they feel hungry – and 9% report going to bed without having had enough to eat. What's more, the situation is worsening, with 55% of parents saying they've found it more difficult to afford food over the last year. You can read the full report here.
RSA Fellows are leading action to address this serious issue. Today, the GLA (whose London Food Board commissioned the research) launched the London Food Map. It provides a simple way for anyone who needs food a crisis – or who knows someone who does – to find a free provider, whether that's a soup kitchen, a food bank, or a catering outlet that gives away surplus food at the end of the day.
The map has been developed by Plan Zheroes, a campaign led by Fellows Maria Ana Bothelo Neves and Chris Wilkie, and campaigner Lotti Henley. As it happens, my colleague Matthew Mezey recently interviewed Maria Ana about how the project needs help from people with volunteer management and social media skills, so do have a look and see if you can contribute.
The Food Board are also working with Magic Breakfast, a charity led by Carmel McConnell, which runs breakfast clubs that provide a healthy meal for over 7,500 children every day. One of the key observations in the report is that food poverty has an impact beyond the physical: for instance, it also affects young people's levels of social participation, with participants in the research saying they felt unable to invite their children's friends to stay due to anxiety over food. One parent, Kim, quoted in the research:
I had to ring their parents and explain, ‘I can’t feed them’; it is embarrassing. As much as I can look after their kids and they can stay the night... that [feeding them] limits me as to how many times they can stay. Obviously if they stay the night, then I have to feed them the next morning... sometimes I’ve had to say to Lance ‘I haven’t got the food, Lance, he can’t stay’. And it’s embarrassing to say that to a parent, to turn round and say ‘well he can stay, but I can’t feed him’...
As the finding about attention at school demonstrates, hunger can also have an impact on children's learning. Carmel worked with another Fellow, Laura Billings, to experiment with new ways of combining breakfast clubs and community learning in Willesden, north-west London; see this blog about the project from last year, which features videos of them discussing their experiences.
This also hints at a wider issue: this isn't just about food. Yes, food poverty is a stark issue, and one that has rightly attracted a great deal of public attention. That doesn't mean it's the only thing we should focus on – as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation point out, reducing poverty means working across all sections of society and addressing a range of inter-linked issues, of which child hunger is only one.
The willingness of organisations like Plan Zheroes and Magic Breakfast not only to tackle these issues but explore the wider context in which they exist shows the depth of commitment to social change amongst RSA Fellows. If you're inspired by what they've achieved, find out more about how you can turn your own ideas for social change into practical action.