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Northern Ireland schoolchildren should get free fruit or veg, says report

The Children's Future Food Inquiry examined the extent of food poverty in the UK
The Children's Future Food Inquiry examined the extent of food poverty in the UK

Schoolchildren in Northern Ireland should be given a free portion of fruit or vegetables each day, according to a new report.

The Children's Future Food Inquiry examined the extent of food poverty in the UK, featuring input from young people, experts and academics.

Its final report also recommends a free meal every day for pupils during their first three years of schooling.

Food poverty is a growing issue in Northern Ireland, with 5,307 children born into poverty in 2017 and 30,750 children under the age of four and 94,378 school aged children living in poverty.

Pupils in Northern Ireland are entitled to free school meals if their household's net income is less than £14,000 a year, or where their parents are on particular benefits.

The report also recommends councils take action to ensure less takeaway food outlets are opened close to schools and the appointment of an independent children's food watchdog for Northern Ireland.

Cash benefits for families during the school holidays that at least match the cost of free school meals are also recommended.

Pauline Leeson, chief executive of umbrella group Children in Northern Ireland, who sat on the inquiry committee, said the growing number of children living in food poverty is "unacceptable".

"The number of people using food banks in Northern Ireland has risen by over 13% in the last 12 months with more than 36,000 three-day emergency food packages given to people – with more than 15,000 of these going to children," she said.

"We should be providing our children and young people with the best start in life, instead we are hindering their growth, affecting their confidence and making it impossible for them to learn and develop.

"The growing number of children in Northern Ireland living in food poverty is unacceptable and more needs to be done to support these children and their families in order for them to have access to healthy and affordable food. No child should be going hungry.

"The Inquiry’s report has recommendations that are easy and straightforward to implement and we must implement them now.  We cannot wait any longer.”

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