Zayn Malik urges PM to extend free school meals amid cost-of-living crisis

Following the lead of England footballer Marcus Rashford and celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, Zayn Malik has called on the prime minister to provide wider access to free school meals for all children whose families are in financial difficulty.

In an open letter to Rishi Sunak, the ex-One Direction star expressed his concerns for school children’s access to meals during the cost of living crisis and reveals that he himself relied on free school lunches as a child growing up in Bradford.

Malik said: “These children are suffering from lack of concentration, some even resorting to stealing food from school canteens because they are so hungry but can’t afford to buy lunch…. They are also feeling shame which is directly impacting their physical and mental health…I know what that shame feels like, I have seen it first-hand”

Malik also shared the letter to Instagram with the caption: “No child should have to suffer the trauma and stigma of hunger & poverty.”

 

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Currently around 1.9 million children in England are eligible for free school meals, the government says, 22.5% of all pupils but it is estimated that a further 800,000 children in England live in poverty but do not qualify for free school meals.

Malik is backing a Food Foundation campaign calling for all children in households on Universal Credit to be eligible for free school meals.

Anna Taylor, the executive director of the Food Foundation, said: “Zayn’s music has touched the lives of many millions of people. We are thrilled to be working together on the campaign and that he is becoming an ambassador. His own experiences as a child will resonate with many young people in Britain today whose voices go unheard.”

Teaching organisations representing teaching staff, governors and school trustees across the UK have also backed the campaign.

Malik, who said he felt compelled to write to the prime minister and to share his own experiences. is urging people to also write to their MPs on the issue, which he hopes will convince the government to include a free school meal for all children living in poverty as part of the Autumn statement on 17 November.

At the end of his letter, Malik addresses Mr Sunak, writing:

“As prime minister, you have the power to change this.”Please act in good conscience and commit in your budget on 17 November to giving all children living in poverty a free school meal.”Children going hungry is not inevitable and should not come down to a political issue or ideology.”

In response to his letter, a government spokesperson said: “We have expanded access to free school meals more than any other government in recent decades, which currently reach 1.9 million children. We are also investing up to £24 million in our National School Breakfast Programme, which provides free breakfasts to children in schools in disadvantaged areas. In addition, eight million of the most vulnerable households will get at least £1,200 of cost-of-living support this year on top of benefit from the Energy Price Guarantee, meaning they will be eligible for support which exceeds the avera”no parent should have to make impossible decisions like whether to buy food, turn on the heating, or go into debt” as the prices of food, housing and energy bills soar”

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