For the first time in its 70 year history, UNICEF is set to distribute food throughout the UK. The organisation has joined forces with a group called Sustain, and is providing funds to 30 community projects across the country. Up to 15,000 young people are set to benefit from the plan, which will last until April 2021.
Over the Christmas holidays and February half term, more than 13,000 South London children will be granted breakfast meals from the program. Organic food delivery firm Abel & Cole has also agreed to include £4,500 worth of fruit and vegetables within the students’ packages. Donna Cadman has described the act as a “godsend.” The mother-of-three’s husband died of motor neurone disease last year, and she recalls the challenges that followed: “It was hard, I was going without food, just skipping meals and going with a sandwich or maybe a tin of food, and giving all I had to the children and going without as long as I could.”
According to Anna Kettley, Director of Programmes at UNICEF UK, “the coronavirus pandemic is the most urgent crisis affecting children since the Second World War and it is ending childrens’ lives everywhere, including right here at home.” She explains that, even prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, 2.4 million children were suffering from food insecurity. Since the pandemic and consequent lockdown, 32% of UK households have reported a drop in income.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons, has expressed his disapproval at the project. He believes UNICEF “should be ashamed of itself,” and elaborated: “I think it is a real scandal that UNICEF should be playing politics in this way when it is meant to be looking after people in the poorest, the most deprived, countries of the world where people are starving, where there are famines and where there are civil wars.” He proceeded to describe the financial aid as a “cheap political point,” and “a political stunt of the lowest order.”
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour party, believes it is a “disgrace” that UNICEF should have to offer aid. She explains, “We are one of the richest countries in the world. Our children should not have to rely on humanitarian charities that are used to operating in war zones and in response to natural disasters.” Labour MP Richard Burgon echoed this sentiment, and accused the current Conservative government of making a political choice by enabling poverty.
Downing Street did not endorse Rees-Mogg’s response, as a spokesperson clarified: “We are committed to supporting the lowest-paid families through the pandemic and beyond. That’s why we have raised the living wage, boosted welfare support by billions of pounds and introduced the £170m Covid winter grant scheme to help children and families stay warm and well-fed during the coldest months.”