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National Food Strategy calls for a ‘national safety net’ to combat hunger and poor diet and prioritise health of disadvantaged children in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic

Part One of the National Food Strategy, the first major review of the UK’s food policy in nearly 75 years, has been published with urgent recommendations in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic to combat Britain’s poorest children getting “left behind” and describing the nation’s unhealthy diet as a “slow-motion disaster” and “medical emergency” that requires immediate attention. 
 
British entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby, who was commissioned by Government last year to produce the independent review, argues in his review that Covid-19 has brought to light the painful cracks in the UK food system. He points to how the poorest people in our society are more likely to suffer from both hunger and obesity which can cause a lifetime of disadvantage and health problems.  
 
He praised the interventions unveiled by the Government’s Obesity Strategy, released earlier this week, on its restrictions of junk food advertising and BOGOF deals, but says much more is needed to tackle these problems.  
 
The Strategy reports that a poorly nourished child will struggle to concentrate and suffer from reduced educational prospects and that diet is a key determinant of a child’s life chances as it is essential for both physical and mental development.    
 
Four immediate measures are proposed for the UK Government to tackle child food poverty now: 
 
• Expansion of Free School Meals (FSM) to every child from a household on Universal Credit (or equivalent benefits) 
 
• Expansion of the Holiday Activity and Food Programme to all areas in England, ensuring summer holiday support is available to all children in receipt of FSM 
 
• A 12-month extension of the ‘Food to the Vulnerable’ ministerial Task Force 
 
• Increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 per week and expanding the scheme to pregnant woman and households with children under 4 where the parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefits 
 
The recommendations echo the asks from the Children’s Right2Food Charter, formed through findings of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry and led by the campaign’s Young Food Ambassadors. 
 
Author of the report, Henry Dimbleby, said: “Unless action is taken to improve our food system, many thousands will continue to suffer. This does not have to be the case. I welcome the Government’s action to tackle obesity, yet more must be done. Most urgently we must ensure that our most disadvantaged children – who are already at risk of being left behind by this crisis can access healthy food. The very foundation of equality of opportunity has to be a nutritious diet.” 
 
Jo Ralling, Head of Youth Engagement and Communications at the Food Foundation, said: “Henry Dimbleby’s trailblazing report is a game-changer and really highlights the importance of prioritising children’s health especially for the most vulnerable and poorest in society.  If the UK is to lead the way globally, it is vitally important that we change our food system to tackle inequality to ensure every child has access to a diet on which they can thrive. 
 
Lindsay Graham, Children’s Right2Food Campaigner, said: “Today we are seeing real progress and I hope that Government moves quickly to make sure that children and young people in every part of England regardless of income have access to a healthy and affordable diet.” 
 
Dev Sharman, 15, Young Food Ambassador from Leicester, said: “We have been campaigning for this day for over 2 years and it feels that finally we are being listened to. We now want to see this happen for real and for Government to roll out the proposals as soon as possible. The poorest children in the UK are going hungry every day and this has to stop.” 

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