This summer Flintshire County Council, in conjunction with partner organisations, is undertaking one of the UK’s largest ever food relief programmes in modern times. An estimated 11,800 hot meals will be delivered for all children attending the Flintshire summer play schemes over six weeks.
Sarah Taylor, UNISON Cymru Wales’ deputy convenor and Flintshire branch secretary spoke at the launch of this initiative to alleviate holiday hunger for children. A hundred guests gathered on 19 July at the Theatre Clwyd, Mold and this is an extract of what she had to say.
“I am delighted to have been invited to speak today at the launch of this fantastic initiative in Flintshire to alleviate food poverty and holiday hunger for our young people in Flintshire.
Today however, is also tainted with frustration and disappointment that we have to be here at all. The UK economy is the sixth largest in the world, worth approximately £2 trillion in GDP.
Inequality is our society is rife, with the richest 1% of our population owning 20 times more wealth than the UK’s poorest 20%. Women have been particularly hard hit by austerity:
· Women are more likely to work part-time
· Women are more likely to work in low paid jobs
· Women are more likely to have multiple jobs
· Women are more likely to rely on benefits
· Women are more likely to be single parents
· And women are more likely to have to manage household budgets for food
Most UNISON members are women and we understand the difficult choices they have to make to try to make ends meet, living hand to mouth. We know this as UNISON is a referring agent for our members to food banks and we have seen our referrals increase steadily over the last 7/8 years. No parent — whether male or female — wants to be in the position of not being able to feed their children.
Changes to the benefits system and the introduction of Universal Credit have led to further difficulties for the least well-off to cope with and created financial family chaos.
This is due to the fact that the monthly assessment period for Universal Credit can on a number of occasions in a year include 2 monthly pay cheques, therefore reducing the amount of benefit payable. UNISON has recently written to every MP in the country to raise their awareness of this policy flaw and is actively lobbying government to change the assessment periods.
Our UNISON members who work in health are telling us that they are encountering more children and older people admitted to hospital suffering from conditions related to malnutrition — rickets was all but eradicated in the UK in the 1950s but it is now on the increase again. Scurvy, another Victorian disease, saw hospital admissions rise by 27% between 2009 and 2014.
Both of these diseases can be prevented by eating a healthy balanced diet and by exercising. Much media coverage today concentrates on obesity not hunger, but Michelle Obama made the following observation: -
“Child hunger and child obesity are really just two sides of the same coin. Both rob our children of the energy, the strength and the stamina they need to succeed in school and in life. And that in turns robs our country of so much of their promise.”
This initiative in Flintshire is to be commended. It is ambitious but I am sure that by us all working together in partnership, we will be able to declare Flintshire a hunger-free zone over the summer.”