Dear Jeremy Hunt: Don't Give Up On Me, Don't Give Up On Young People
On Saturday 14th January, I had the opportunity to join a protest to ensure that the Government provides free school meals to all children living in poverty. It was amazing to be out there fighting for change, and I’m about to tell you all about it!
I woke up, excited for the day ahead, but as disorganised as ever. Rushing down to North Greenwich with my brother we arrived at Westminster where I kept a beady eye out for some Bite Back posters and promotions — and spotted them! The station was filled with colourful and impactful posters with quotes and demands that the Government provide free school meals to all those living in poverty. The excitement and anticipation filled my body, and as I arrived at the venue I was ready to get started.
I got stuck into making some impactful boards and posters to hold up on Parliament Square. I meant every word I wrote and I was filled with joy to have the opportunity to do this. Free school meals have been the difference between me being here or not. My family went through a really tough period when I was younger and struggled to find food to eat as we were on an extremely limited budget. We were using food banks and me and my siblings relied on free school meals to get through the day. It literally was the only guaranteed healthy nutritious meal we could have. It was hugely beneficial to me and my family knowing that we wouldn’t have to worry about finding money to pay for school meals, which currently is a major struggle for families across the country.
With the Bite Back gang all together we started our walk out onto Parliament Square. The posters and banners created were absolutely stunning; the artistry was on point. We even had Jeremy Hunt with us (well, a cardboard version anyway — and he was just as insightful as the real life version!)
We arrived at the square, braving the wet, muddy and somewhat devastated grass, and were overjoyed to see the amount of people supporting us! We even got a Lamborghini to rev up his engine for our campaign! We had taxis, buses, cars and motorbikes honk and beep in support and had loads of spectators impressed and supportive. All around us were supporters and people who agreed with us that free school meals is one of the best ways to help families during this difficult time.
Apart from our posters at Westminster station and ourselves at Parliament Square, Bite Back had other special appearances — three DigiVans! Driven around Westminster for 10 hours (I’m still confused how they didn’t run out of fuel), we shared our free school meals film, demanding that the Government extends free school meals to over 800,000 children living in poverty but not eligible. They drove right outside Parliament and 10 Downing Street, and I’m hoping they’re still driving down Jeremy Hunt’s memory lane.
But probably most memorable was having the opportunity to hand over the petition on extending free school meals into 10 Downing Street. It was a momentous moment in the campaign that marked the beginning of change. We received over 250,000 signatures. To put that into perspective — that’s Wembley filled nearly three times over! Being able to get on the doorstep and hear the knock before handing it in was amazing!
On our way back, the chants continued. “What do we want? Free school meals! When do we want it? Now!” It seems so simple, yet frustratingly out of reach. I don’t understand why the Government won’t act on this when it is so overwhelmingly supported. My friends Becky, Praise and Barakat spoke to some members of the public on this issue and it is clear they agree!
While the Government is busy arguing about the PM not wearing a seatbelt, 1 in 10 pupils in England don’t have access to school meals — it’s a disgrace in one of the biggest economies in the world. It's proven that for every £1 invested in free school meals it would give back £1.38 in benefits to the economy. Rishi Sunak is so keen on getting teenagers to do maths for longer when he can’t complete the maths himself.
In a recent survey, 1 in 5 young people reported seeing a friend go hungry at school because they couldn’t afford lunch. This is unacceptable. As my fellow Bite Back campaigner Ollie said “Kids should just be able to get food without thinking ‘Have I got enough money for it?’ they’re kids, 11 and 12, they shouldn’t have to do that.” This is absolutely true. Even the Government agrees. In their 2019 manifesto they said “Every child should have the chance to succeed in life” But right now they are stealing success away from us.
English is normally right after lunch for me, but since I sometimes don’t eat properly it leads to me feeling tired during lessons and I don’t get much work done. I get distracted easier and this has led to my performance worsening. Is this the Government’s idea of a chance to succeed?
Especially during a cost of living crisis, it’s important to make sure we lower the burden on families as much as possible. A simple lunch at my school, which includes a small portion of the main meal plus a slice of cake, costs £2.40. Over a week that's £12 — that could go towards the cost of my electricity which is a top-up metre that has been running out quicker than ever before. But it just seems to me like the Government just doesn't care. I’m not the only one; only 4% of young people agree that the Government cares enough if they have healthy food to eat. But with this stunt, I hope the Government wakes up from their fairy tale dreams and faces reality. Free school meals must be available to all those in poverty. Now.
Bite Back campaigner Erin
Even when carrying the banners I made on the tube home, people were interested and asking how they could get involved. This shows ordinary people agree with us — feeding children in poverty is not only the right and moral thing to do, but it is also good for the economy and the future of this country. Put simply, we young people are the future and if you're not watering your crops, the harvest will surely be disappointing. The only people who for whatever reason can't find sense in this are the Government — Jeremy Hunt and Rishi Sunak disappointed us in their Autumn statement but we’re not giving up.
Email Jeremy Hunt and the UK Government now. Demand that they don’t destroy our precious harvest, demand that they relieve pressure on the poorest families during this cost of living crisis, demand that they don’t starve Britain’s young people of a healthy future. Now more than ever, time is running out. Let’s put child health first!