Deborah McMillan said that the issue of child poverty in the Island remained ‘hidden’, at time when there were growing calls in the UK to extend the free school meals programme.
A campaign led by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford has been gathering steam after the UK government faced a backlash for rejecting proposals to provide meals for vulnerable children during the holidays. A petition lodged by Mr Rashford has received more than 900,000 signatures.
In Jersey the issue was a hot topic on social media over the weekend, with Children’s Commissioner Deborah McMillan backing the extension of the Island’s existing school meals programme, run in conjunction with Caring Cooks, which provides subsidised or free lunches in two primary schools during term time.
Mrs McMillan said that she was planning to have an online meeting with the Caring Cooks charity, which provides meals for children at Janvrin and Samarès schools, to discuss the matter on 6 November, with a view to increasing the provision.
She said that child poverty remains a ‘hidden’ and ‘unaddressed’ issue in Jersey.
‘It hardly needs stating that a child’s right to food is fundamental to their ongoing survival, health and wellbeing,’ she said.
‘However, what this current debate around school meals is also highlighting is that poverty in our Island still remains hidden and, in many cases, largely unaddressed.
‘Lack of food can adversely affect children’s lives in myriad ways. Anyone who has ever tried to sit through class on an empty stomach will know that.
‘And while many in the third sector are working hard to tackle these problems, our government also needs to ensure that it is doing everything it can to help.’
Deputy Rob Ward, who chairs the Children’s, Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny panel, said he would also back an extension of the existing programme
‘The impact of this could be really positive. We have had breakfast clubs in schools and those have worked really well,’ he said.
‘If there are children in this wealthy Island who are going hungry then the government should be looking to address that because one of the priorities of this government is to put children first. It’s as simple as that.
‘It is especially so when you consider what it going on at the moment and the difficulties people are facing.’
He added that supplying food for school children was a good way to support working families who struggle to meet education costs.
‘You have parents who are working two jobs and are still struggling to provide for children – they are trying but it is difficult for them,’ he said.
‘Sending kids to school already has the cost of school uniforms, equipment and travel. So just to make sure that children receive meals is a no-brainer for me.
‘If it was means-tested then it would have to be discreet to avoid any potential stigma, but that could be achieved easily. You could have a card system for the restaurant, for example.’
Anyone wishing to attend the Children’s Commissioner’s meeting with Caring Cooks should email her at contact@Childcomjersey.org.je.