Members of Youth Parliament from Northern Ireland met with MPs, MLAs, Councillors and the Lord Mayor of Belfast as part of the ‘Spill The Tea With Your MP’ event, where they discussed the devastating impact that poverty can have on the education and welfare of young people and explained our ‘Food For Learning’ campaign. This comes only weeks after Northern Ireland’s ‘Holiday Hunger’ scheme was cut – meaning once again vulnerable young people are being left behind.
Meeting with those in power, the Members of Youth Parliament shared their own experiences of needing free school meals, stressing why this campaign is important to them and the benefits of supporting free school meals for all. This event also provided Members of Youth Parliament with a key opportunity to discuss the impact of the current cuts being made to education in Northern Ireland, such as access to free period products, the “Happy Healthy Minds” program, and the cost of school uniforms.
The lively, meaningful and engaging conversation with key decision makers, made it clear that the current financial crisis is having drastic impacts on the quality of education that young people receive. Despite being severely impacted by the cost of living crisis – the voices of young people are too often ignored and their views disregarded. It was extremely empowering and somewhat reassuring to hear the passion of the politicians to build a better future for young people, to take our views into consideration and to take action on the issues that matter most to young people. The politicians at the event were extremely eager to share their personal experiences of free school meals and work with MYPs to come up with creative and innovative solutions in order to break down some of the barriers young people face in education. Every young person should be supported and encouraged to reach their full potential, and without a healthy and nutritious meal each day, some of the most vulnerable young people will unfortunately miss out on opportunities to develop skills, friendships and career prospects.
The discussion focused on the stigma surrounding free school meals, how it differs from school to school and how for many young people a free school meal ticket no longer covers the cost of a full, healthy meal. Many young people fear the judgement of their peers when receiving a free school meal, and our campaign hopes to level the playing field for all students and to ensure that there is no shame, or fear of judgement for receiving Free School Meals. We discussed how, by ending the stigma surrounding food insecurity at a young age, young people are more likely to feel confident enough to reach out for help when they are older. We discussed the benefits of free school meals, how they can help improve educational attainment, support children’s health and well-being and remove the stigma. We also discussed the long term benefits of free school meals and the challenges with the current system. Access to a healthy, nutritious meal is a human right, and no child should be left to go hungry. We urgently need to deconstruct the barriers surrounding education and ensure that every young person is provided with the skills and experiences they need to fulfil their potential.
Every child deserves a high quality education. Every child deserves to have their voice heard. Every child deserves healthy food in order to access the opportunities they need to thrive. Free school meals are essential, and it is unacceptable that so many young people go without essential nutrition. Free school meals will help support young people’s physical and mental health, help to reduce food insecurity and improve academic performance. We must work to ensure that young people are not left behind in the cost of living crisis, and that their voices are not only heard, but their contribution is valued and inspires decision makers to take meaningful action.
If you want to ensure that no child is left behind and that every young person has equality of opportunity, support our “Food For Learning” campaign today!