THE ISSUE of child food poverty and food insecurity has been in focus this week as parliamentarians debated a petition calling on wider support.

Launched by footballer Marcus Rashford at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the petition called on MPs to expand free school meal provision and make a commitment to tackling the food insecurity issues for many families in the UK.

The issue was debated in parliament on Monday, backed by the National Education Union who have launched a 'No Child Left Behind' campaign.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Will Quince MP, defended the Government in the debate.

He said: “This Government is wholly committed to tackling poverty in all its forms. Throughout the pandemic, our priority has been to protect incomes by spending £407 billion last year to protect jobs, keep businesses afloat and help families get by.

“This includes spending an additional £7.4billion to strengthen the welfare system for those most in need, taking total expenditure on welfare support for people of working age to an estimated £112 billion in 2020/21.

“In December 2020 we introduced our Covid Winter Grant Scheme providing funding to local authorities in England to enable them to support people with food and essential utility bills during the coldest months.”

But Carlisle city councillor Lisa Brown said: “Communities are the best people to sort out their own problems.”

Government ministers promised to consider the campaign’s recommendations in their next review of the National Food Strategy.

Lisa hopes to see an end to the talk in Parliament and decisive solutions.

“It’s really easy for those people in Parliament who get £70,000 to £80,000 a year to just make it an agenda item. People are starving in real time, they’re hungry now. Saying ‘we’ll look at it later’ is not going to feed them today.”

Councillor Brown has seen the impact of food poverty and food insecurity first-hand, having volunteered for a Covid-19 support group in the height of the pandemic which worked with the city’s foodbanks.

Since then she has formed Carlisle Community Help, a food hub, with fellow councillor Karen Lockney.

They feel that they have identified a more effective solution to food scarcity than those previously available. Their affordable food hubs give families the amount of food they need for a week in exchange for a low cost. Customers can shop for the food they need through a website that is designed to feel like online shopping from a supermarket.

Lisa said: “It’s not cheap to keep giving away free food. There’s lots of surplus food being given away by supermarkets at the end of the night but it’s not good-quality, fresh food.”

Lisa’s most effective solution to the issue, which gives customers agency, is: “Affordable food and having people contribute a small cost.

“There’s nothing wrong with going along to food pantries but this gives people something unique and it levels that playing field. It feels like going on Tesco Click and Collect.”

She added that there is no shame in using a foodbank.

“Giving free food away will stop people being hungry but it won’t stop the need for free food. The food bank will do three food parcels at once and then that’s it.”

The Right to Food campaign is also calling on the UK Government to make food security for all a legal right. It has been adopted by some local authorities in the UK, including Newcastle City Council, and councillor Brown wants to see the same happen in Cumbria.

“Newcastle have declared themselves a Right to Food city they backed that motion at council," she said.

“It should go without saying that people have the right to eat. We need the Right to Food across the country. There’s lots going on across the country to provide fresh fruit and fresh vegetables.”

According to data collected by No Child Left Behind, 4,469 children are living in poverty in Carlisle.

There are 3,765 children are currently living in poverty in the Workington constituenc; in Penrith and the Border, 3587 children are trapped in the same situation; and in Copeland the figure is 3,281.

Barrow-in-Furness currently has 4,092 children living in poverty.

Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall, recently won re-election to the position. This week he heard from homeless people, volunteers and counsellors at Carlisle Key who told him about their concerns and how the Covid-19 Recovery fund helped to support young people during the pandemic.

Mr McCall said: “I was taken on a virtual tour that showcased the newly renovated drop-in space where young people who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, can now receive face-to-face counselling, as supported by our Covid-19 Recovery fund.

“Supporting vulnerable people is one of my key priorities, and counselling services such as these are vital.

“One young person recently told Carlisle Key that if it wasn’t for this service, she would not be here any more. We must all work together and do everything we can to help support people most in need in our communities.

“Our charities, voluntary and local groups have carried out a significant amount of valuable work in Cumbria over the last 12 months, to ensure that those people who needed help were supported.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those that have worked selflessly to support our communities.”

Iain McNee, operations manager at Carlisle Key, said: “Our counselling sessions provide a valuable service to our young people, many of whom have been struggling with the restrictions placed on them by the current pandemic guidelines.

“The counselling provides young people with the tools they need to build up their resilience and confidence, giving them a better opportunity to recover from homelessness and help reduce offending.

“Receiving this grant enabled us to adapt our premises and continue to support young people during the third lockdown.

“Young people’s mental health support is vital as they move forwards towards independence, and it’s really important that as a community, we rally around our young people and support them through any challenges they may face.”

Anyone in Carlisle experiencing these challenges can get in touch through their website