Intervention comes as charitable groups and appeals – including The Independent’s Help the Hungry campaign – fight to tackle food poverty in communities across the UK
The UN’s child protection wing will for the first time intervene to support those at risk of hunger in the UK following the “unprecedented” impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable communities.
Unicef has put its funding behind a scheme designed to provide breakfast boxes to 1,800 families over the course of the Christmas holidays – marking the first emergency response in the UK by the organisation since it was founded in 1946.
It comes as charitable groups and appeals including The Independent’s Help the Hungry campaign work to tackle surging rates of food poverty across the UK brought on by the impact of the pandemic.
Unicef’s £25,000 grant will see food distributed through schools to vulnerable children in Southwark, south London, across the winter break by charitable group School Food Matters.
The programme will also provide 6,750 breakfasts to families over the February half-term break
The UN agency warned that the pandemic is the most urgent crisis affecting children since the Second World War.
Anna Kettley, director of programmes at Unicef UK, said: “This is Unicef’s first ever emergency response within the UK, introduced to tackle the unprecedented impact of the coronavirus crisis and reach the families most in need.
“The grant for School Food Matters will address the gap in current provision for children, providing approximately 1,800 children with breakfast bags during the Christmas holidays and February half-term.
“This funding will help build stronger communities as the impact of the pandemic worsens, but ultimately a longer-term solution is needed to tackle the root causes of food poverty, so no child is left to go hungry.”
Unicef’s intervention serves as a stark reminder of the growing levels of food poverty in the UK – a crisis that The Independent’s Help The Hungry campaign has worked to tackle since the beginnings of the outbreak, with more than 100,000 meals given out to vulnerable people by our appeal partners.
Our campaign has partnered up with The Felix Project, one of the UK’s largest food redistribution charities, which uses an army of volunteers to save high-quality food destined for the dustbin and get it to those in need.
Nutritious ingredients from the charity are then handed over to the team at With Compassion, who cook up 1,000 free meals a day to offer people across London the sustenance and the comfort that comes with healthy, delicious food.
The Labour Party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: “The fact that Unicef is having to step in to feed our country’s hungry children is a disgrace and Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak should be ashamed.
“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.
“Charities and businesses across the country have done a brilliant job stepping in where the government has failed, but it should have never come to this.”
A spokesperson for the prime minister said the government had taken “substantial action” to “ensure that children don’t go hungry through the pandemic” as well as pledging £16m “not too long ago” to food distribution charities.