Child poverty is on the rise and is becoming the ‘new normal’. That’s the damning verdict of a report published by the End Child Poverty coalition, who found that in some parts of the UK half of children are trapped in poverty.
Almost a third of children in Wakefield live in poverty – that’s 23,600 children across our district not getting the best start in life. This is not a result of unemployment, as most have at least one working parent. The steady rise in child poverty since 2010 is a result of years of cuts to our social security system, hitting the poorest in our society the hardest.
Last week was half term, and many children in Wakefield will have suffered with ‘holiday hunger’. While some children qualify for free school meals during term time, there is no provision for the holidays. The loss of those schools meals is estimated to cost £10 per week for each child. During the long summer holiday, this cost can really add up.
Holiday hunger pushes families into debt and food poverty, and means children return to school in a worse physical and mental state than before the holidays. Every child should have the best start in life. It is not right that in the fifth richest country in the world children face such disadvantages before lessons have begun. The Government must end the benefits freeze to support hard-working families.
We have some fantastic foodbanks in Wakefield, with staff who go above and beyond to help families in need such as the Resource Foodbank in Christ Church Parish Centre in Ossett. Their clients are referred by schools and local NHS services, and when I visited them Peter Moore, their chairman, told me that family referrals had more than trebled in the last year. While I wish we didn’t need foodbanks in Wakefield, I am grateful that such dedicated volunteers are ready to help those in need.
Foodbanks aren’t the only place you can get free or cheap food. The Real Junk Food Project’s Kindness sharehouse, in Headway Business Park off Denby Dale Road, is stocked with edible food discarded by supermarkets. It’s open every day except Sunday, and operates on a pay-as-you-feel basis. It’s a nationally recognised example of fighting food poverty and food waste together.
Ramadan ended with Eid this week, and from 24 May to 31 May Wakefield’s Muslim community provided free iftars, the evening meal to break the fast, in Lightwaves Community Centre. I popped along to one and it was great to see the generosity of people in our city, not only to their neighbours, but recent arrivals too.
At the iftar I met Mahmoud Aliko and his family, refugees from Damascus in Syria who now live in Wakefield. In Syria, Mahmoud taught biology, and when we met he had just taken his biology GCSE at Wakefield College so he could start his qualifications to teach here. It’s wonderful to know people in Wakefield take pride in helping those in need, and to see the people who come here so keen to contribute to our society.
As ever, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with my office if you need my help: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the Wakefield Express on Thursday 6 June 2019.