Today’s blog comes from council candidate Eileen Means
On 7th November, I watched a TV programme that showed the impact on children, families and schools of completely running out of money to buy food, usually due to Universal Credit payment difficulties but also zero hours contracts or simply low pay. It was heartbreaking, describing how very young children try not to put the pressure of their hunger or other needs on to their parents, understanding the real meaning of poverty.
Sadly, a children’s book about going to a food bank is even on sale which describes how a daughter observes her mother worrying about every penny of expenditure; “luckily, Mum isn’t hungry this morning” she says as she munches the last piece of toast in the house. The fact that similar situations occur in a prosperous city like Bristol shames us all.
Nearly 20 years ago, the Blair Government vowed to tackle child poverty and set targets for Government Departments to reach. These succeeded in raising many children out of poverty and gave them hope. These targets were scrapped by the Conservative Government of David Cameron which also made things far worse by the introduction of Universal Credit.
Since 2012, we have witnessed the growth of food banks throughout the country including here in Bristol. Data has emerged e.g. that out of a class of 30, nine, yes 9 children will live in poverty and will probably come to school hungry. And this is just an average figure across our city. In some deprived areas, that figure will be even higher.
Feeding Bristol was set up by Cllr Anna Keen with the support of Mayor Marvin Rees and his Labour Cabinet in response to this hunger crisis early in 2019. Bristol has the highest number of children claiming free school meals in the South West – at 20% amongst the highest proportion in the country. This provides resources to encourage the spread of breakfast clubs across the city under the slogan ‘No child should go to school hungry’.
But there is also a large amount of evidence that shows that children in poverty do not grow, indeed often their weight falls during school holidays, so holiday clubs were also set up over the summer of 2019 to feed hungry children. They were repeated during Autumn half term.
My concern was that everything shuts down at Christmas. There are always some who miss out due to failure of last- minute payments or unexpected bills. So I submitted a statement to the Bristol City Council meeting in November that proposed that the City Council should help out Bristol foodbanks by setting up donation points in Council Offices with wide publicity so that Bristolians could conveniently drop off food, hygiene products and new toys to give Bristol’s children living in poverty not only a hunger-free Christmas but a few treats and presents to open on Christmas day.
The Council adopted this with enthusiasm. The first trolleys, sparklingly decorated to attract attention were placed in City Hall and Temple Quay on 25th November 2019. Twenty three large crates of Christmassy food were collected and delivered just before Christmas to Feeding Bristol for distribution. I reported back to Full Council again from the Public Gallery on 17th December to remind them that there were just a few days left to donate.
My very grateful thanks and appreciation go to Ellen Hitchins of Bristol City Council, Andy Street of Feeding Bristol, Cllrs Anna Keen and Helen Goodwin for leading on the Feeding Bristol initiative and to Cllr Donald Alexander for his assistance to me in getting this project off the ground.