26 September 2023
'No child's ability to learn should be hindered by hunger'
Earlier this month, some of our Young Food Ambassadors brought their campaign to expand Free School Meals to MPs, civil servants and the public in the heart of Westminster. Below, they reflect on why the issue is so important to them and why they’re not giving up
Dev Sharma, 18, Leicester
"I wanted to get involved in the Free School Meals campaign because I grew up in a food desert - an area with not a lot of access to healthy, nutritious food, and is thus flooded with cheap, unhealthy food options.
"We know that four of the top five risk factors for poor health are related to food, and that currently people from the poorest areas are dying an average of 10 years younger than people from the richest areas. Thus, Free School Meals present a huge opportunity to support children's health.
"A few other young food campaigners came together in Westminster to lobby politicians in their own language. We re-imagined one of the most iconic political slogans in history, to one that reflects what we believe; that kids aren’t being fed at school due to the government’s strict eligibility requirements around Free School Meals."
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Fayeth Jones, 17, North Wales
"To start the day in London, us Young Food Ambassadors stood outside parliament with our large billboard. We handed out flyers to the public and gave out as much information as possible (whilst also being filmed by photographers and cameramen).
"Then we took our journey into Westminster itself where we had a tour around the Palace of Westminster led by an MP. Next, I went for a meeting with Dr James Davies the MP for the Vale of Conwy to share our campaign asks.
"I'm from Wales, where all children in primary school are soon going to be entitled to a Free School Meal. This is happening in London too.
"Free School Meals are so important to me because they helped me and my sisters when my family was experiencing food insecurity.
"I am here to tell politicians in Westminster that it’s not fair that here in England children don’t get treated equally."
Saffron Stedall, 19, from Portsmouth
"When I was at school my family struggled a lot financially, but we were just over the eligibility threshold, so I didn’t qualify for Free School Meals.
"I don’t want any other child to experience that again. That’s why I’ve been campaigning on behalf of the 900,000 children living in poverty in England who are missing out today.
"Going to Westminster ourselves was such a good way of getting our message about the importance of Free School Meals across, face to face with politicians, civil servants and the public.
"Seeing our 'Kids Aren’t Eating' billboard for the first time – I thought, they can’t ignore this.
"My highlight of the day was talking to the Department for Education in the afternoon at their offices in Whitehall. Meeting face to face, you could see that they were listening to us, our stories and first-hand experiences of Free School Meals and school food.
"The experience has helped me realize that I would really like to work in the civil service, especially within education, and to help children to achieve their potential."
Habiba Hallak, 16, North London
"I particularly wanted to participate in the Free School Meals campaign because I want to address the unfairness in current free school meal eligibility, and ensure that all children, regardless of their postcode, can receive a full, nourishing lunch and never experience food poverty.
"The opportunity to meet with some local MPs and have a conversation with them about our campaign, so that they in turn can take our message to more influential audiences was, in my opinion, one of the day's highlights.
"Additionally, it was helpful to be able to observe how the Department for Education operates and discuss our own personal experiences with officials."
Mirzan Kama, 16, North London
"I am a passionate advocate for children's well-being and a firm believer in the transformative power of access to nutritious meals. That’s why I’m taking a stand for the expansion of Free School Meals across the United Kingdom.
"No child's ability to learn should be hindered by hunger. Ensuring that children have access to nutritious food while in school is not only an investment in their future but also a commitment to breaking the cycle of poverty and inequality.
"It was great that on the day we managed to speak to several MPs. My main highlight of the day was just the sheer joy of being heard and knowing that we are slowly but surely making progress."
Saffron Speaks out about the struggles of autistic young people with food and particularly the impact of food insecurity on children on the spectrum. Saffron feels strongly about families paying too much for unhealthy food and wants healthy food to be cheaper and more accessible.
Fayeth is a young carer and her mum and her are both epileptic. She and her little sisters are all on Free School Meals and Fayeth volunteers at her local foodbank. Fayeth speaks about food insecurity in the context of health vulnerability, and would like to see all children across all UK nations have equal access to food.
As well as being a Young Food Ambassador, Dev is Chair of the Leicester Young City Council and recently won the Diana award for his food poverty activism. Dev often speaks out on holiday hunger and Free School Meals himself. He feels strongly about the influence that junk food advertising on young people.
I am on the Barnet Council's youth board, an active member in my school's mental health group and am also a Young Conservative. I know what it is like receiving free school meals and this is why I joined the Food Foundation and decided to speak up, and create change for good.