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Don’t forget about breakfast, charities warn

Funding for the National School Breakfast Programme will end in July, as experts come together to highlight the importance of nutritious food

Free school meals have been firmly on the agenda during the last 12 months as the pandemic puts parents out of work and takes children out of school where they might otherwise be fed.

Footballer Marcus Rashford joined the crusade to feed vulnerable kids during lockdown and had a hand in forcing two u-turns from the government. It earned him an MBE. More than 1,000 businesses inspired by his campaign stepped in to provide meals for children during the October half term and the government extended the free lunch scheme over Christmas and through lockdown.

But lunches aren’t the only provision available for the most impoverished kids in society. 

Tens of thousands of disadvantaged children are being fed every morning via The National School Breakfast Programme run by charities Magic Breakfast and Family Action.

The scheme, which is paid for by the Government, currently supports 650 schools and 170,000 kids, adapting to social distancing and supplying breakfast during lockdown.

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But funding is due to end in July, leaving schools up and down the country to figure out how they will support children in desperate need of the most important meal of the day. 

Last week the charity urged ministers to pledge continued funding at the Budget, warning of a massive increase in demand for its services over the past year as more families succumbed to the economic hit of Covid-19.

The chancellor did announce an extension to the £20 Universal Credit uplift, which has been described as a lifeline for families living on the breadline, but the funding for breakfasts wasn’t forthcoming. 

“School breakfasts will form an important part of children’s recovery from the effects of Covid-19 as they have been found to boost educational attainment and can improve children’s mental and emotional wellbeing,” said Alysa Remtulla, head of policy and campaigns at Magic Breakfast.

“So, at this critical time in children’s education as they catch up with lost learning, Magic Breakfast is campaigning for the Government to provide all 8,700 schools in England with high levels of disadvantage the funding required to provide school breakfasts to their pupils.”

Her calls couldn’t come at a more appropriate time. Thursday March 11 marks International School Meals Day. Launched in 2013, teachers, chefs, nutritionists and politicians from across the globe will come together to highlight the importance of food on pupil’s wellbeing and development.

And experts are united in the importance of making sure no child goes without, particularly at breakfast. 

Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of charity FareShare, which distributes surplus food, warned demand has “skyrocketed” over the past year, particularly among children and families. 

“FareShare works with hundreds of schools across the UK, supplying breakfast and after school clubs, as well as holiday projects which provide meals to children during term breaks, when the safety net of free school meals is removed,” Boswell said 

“Giving children the best start in life is absolutely vital – and that starts with ensuring families have access to good, nutritious food.” 

David Holmes, chief executive of Family Action, added The National School Breakfast Programme has had a “remarkable impact” on children living in high areas of deprivation. 

The charity commissioned a survey of headteachers and found children who were provided with a free breakfast were more ready to learn.

“Government-funded programmes, like the National School Breakfast Programme, must be considered an essential part of the Covid recovery strategy,” Holmes said. 

“The Programme has made a fantastic start, yet thousands more children need access to a healthy school breakfast, to ensure every child can access their education without the barrier of hunger.” 

Remtulla added: “This funding, we believe, should be long-term and sustainable.  

“We are urging the Government to act swiftly to avoid a gap in school breakfast provision for children at risk of hunger when the final phase of the National School Breakfast Programme ends in July.” 

Tens of thousands of children who returned to schools this week will have benefited from the breakfast programme. Whether they will be fed  after the school holidays in September is another matter.

The Government has been contacted for a response. 

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