Leading figures at food banks across the region today spoke of their determination to help reduce the number of children suffering from food poverty.
More than 30 percent of children aged 16 and under in the West Midlands are believed to be living in poverty, with many relying on school meals and food banks for help with getting enough to eat.
The Black Country Food Bank in Brierley Hill, Excel Food Bank in Bilston and Good Shepherd in Wolverhampton have all seen demand increase from children and are working to help meet that demand.
Black Country Food Bank CEO Jen Coleman said that a quarter of the clients they helped were children.
She said: “We did around 400,000 meals last year and a quarter of them were children.
“What’s really interesting is seeing how when the schools stopped, it really affected children as they lost a lot of their support, so we’ve partnered with another organisation to help provide meals for children.
“That’ll see us providing 500 families and 900 children with food and toiletries and we’ve also tried to get involved with schools and tell them about our services, improving our relationships with them.”
Mrs Coleman also praised Manchester United star Marcus Rashford for his campaigning to help children missing out on school meals.
She said: “He has done more than any political person has every done in terms of child poverty and he has done it by making it non-political.
“He has just been honest and said ‘this is the situation’ and shown how children have become pupil premium, but have slipped through the net because they haven’t been in school for the authorities to know about them. What he has done is phenomenal and really brought to the issue to a wider audience.”
New official figures reveal the impact of the pandemic on an issue that was already a problem in the West Midlands.
Nearly 200,000 more children were registered for free school meals in England as the early economic fallout from the pandemic hit household incomes, figures published by the government show.
In the 10 months between January and October last year, the proportion of children on free school meals in England shot up from 17 per cent to nearly 20 per cent, meaning that 1.63 million out of 8.2 million state school pupils are now in receipt of free lunches. In January 2020 the total was 1.44 million.
And there is a distinct divide across the country. The highest rates were in the north-east, where more than 26 per cent were eligible, and here in the West Midlands the rate is 23 per cent. In contrast, only 15 per cent of pupils in the south-east of England were eligible.
Helen Holloway, admin and finance manager at the Good Shepherd in Wolverhampton, said her service was working to help struggling families and tailor what they provide to suit the needs of the families.
She said: “We work with around 45 to 50 different families each week and we are very concerned about the number of families who are struggling as we want to invite them to come and take food they can create meals with.
“We also want to know what they want and give them food choices and basic items such as Oxo cubes and oil, so that they can cook things in a pan. There’s also tinned food such as ravioli and macaroni and cheese, things that we know children like and which are very substantial to them, so we are doing what we can to help.”
John Raj, food bank coordinator for Excel Church, said 75 percent of the families coming to the church for help had young children, adding: “They come to us because they’re trying to cope as best as they can, but are struggling due to difficulty with the new benefits system and other factors.
“They were struggling before the school holidays, but the holidays have led to a greater demand because they are at home all the time and they are trying to cope and do their best.
“We want to help them by starting a new support service, where when they come to us, we will have a designated person who will be able to speak to them and see where they are struggling.If we can’t help them, we can refer them to a third party organisation, but continue to assist them with whatever they need help with going forward.”