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A social work student's letter to the PM on food poverty

Dominic Watters pens an open letter to Boris Johnson concerning Marcus Rashford’s Campaign #ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTY #FoodJustice

I write as a single dad living in a council estate block with my amazing daughter who is eligible for the very vouchers Marcus Rashford is campaigning to extend; a campaign that now thankfully is receiving wide-spread support, and addressing long standing hidden inequalities in the UK.

My lived experience of food poverty has been accompanied by the shame and stigma that is often directed towards those in disadvantaged situations. There have been times when I’ve eaten what my daughter has left over, if at all.

Unfortunately, a contempt towards those viewed as the ‘undeserving’ poor was evident in recent voting to not expand free school meals during a global crisis.

This was particularly evident when Bassetlaw MP, Mr Clarke-Smith asked, ‘Where is the slick PR campaign encouraging absent parents to take some responsibility for their children?’

Such a loaded question suggests that the crux of the problem rests on absent fathers.

This is a pervasive discourse implying that dads shirk their responsibilities, rather than single parents more often being themselves victims of a systemic problem.

This is insensitive at best when you consider that the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England’s report, 25 August 2020, finds that single parents continue to be hit disproportionately by the debilitating impact of Covid-19.

Rashford’s campaign presents an alternative vision showing instead the nobility of single parents during the pandemic.

As a single dad the voice of a young man on an issue relating to nurturing children resonates deeply with me.

Poverty is not exclusive, as it affects families of all colours, sizes, and shapes, from those experiencing urban deprivation to those impoverished in rural settings. This is apparent not least from the recent Minister for Equalities statement on the impact COVID-19 disparities, 22nd October 2020.

The statement identifies multiple factors impacting on the prevalence of Covid-19 including a range of socioeconomic and geographical dimensions - such as occupational exposure, population density, household composition, and pre-existing health conditions.

Given the profound socioeconomic issues, it strikes me as running entirely counter to the evidence of risk to not implement such a measure as free school meals that addresses the broad scope of vulnerability as noted in this report.

I am requesting that the government revisit the free school meal decision in reconsidering the issue of food poverty and how it impacts the most disadvantaged.

On a more personal note, please be aware that it is only now my daughter is older and in grammar school that I have been able to focus on building a career, a career in a profession that values my lived experience, understands diversity as multi-dimensional, and embodies the very exercise of empathy that is demonstrated through Marcus Rashford’s work.

Thankfully the British Association of Social Workers have continued to enable my voice to be heard, as demonstrated through this letter. Needless to say, we wholeheartedly stand in support of Rashford’s campaign.

And I would go further, requesting for the government to make achieving food security for the most vulnerable an integral part of social work’s future.

I hope people will join me when referring to this request by adopting the hashtag #FoodJustice so we may present a unified front.

@SingleDadSW - Sent with support from the British Association of Social Workers