UNICEF will donate money to feed hungry children in the U.K. for the first time in its history, pledging £700,000 to what it calls a “domestic emergency.” The money will go to thirty charities and community organisations, according to Sky News.
While director of programmes at the United Nations charity organisation Anna Kettley said that “the coronavirus pandemic is the most urgent crisis affecting children since the Second World War,” she also said that “we know that before the pandemic 2.4 million children across the UK were already growing up in food insecure households.”
As with huge rises in food bank use; “newly hungry” families experiencing loss of income; and the need for restaurants across London to provide free school meals, the novel coronavirus pandemic has not caused a food insecurity crisis by itself. It has exacerbated already cavernous inequalities in U.K. society, with mutual aid groups, food bank charities, footballer Marcus Rashford, and now, UNICEF seeing interventions normalised by the decade of Lib Dem / Conservative, and then Conservative austerity policies that have meant they have to intervene at all. It did not have to be this way.
Throughout the last nine months, government interventions have been marked by hesitancy, u-turns, and logistical inadequacy. Free school meal vouchers didn’t apply to enough food shops; then they didn’t work at supermarket tills. Boris Johnson ignored Marcus Rashford’s appeal to extend free school meals over school holidays, until political and public pressure forced him to announce £406 million of funding. The government claimed the solution was Universal Credit; the largest food bank charity in the U.K., the Trussell Trust, links Universal Credit repayments to families going hungry.
The government might rightly label the support it has provided — the furlough scheme; a much-too-late and probably-too-little self-isolation payment; that belated free school meal funding and the original vouchers; and an increase to Universal Credit payments, as unprecedented. It is unprecedented. But things can both be unprecedented and not enough. There is no scenario in which the U.K., the sixth richest country in the world, should need a United Nations hand-out to feed its children. However much the novel coronavirus may have laid inequalities and inadequacies bare, government policy led to those inequalities. It is a choice that government policy does not remedy them.