No 10 charity partner pledges to educate ministers on childhood hunger
The Guardian, by Peter Walker
The founder of a school breakfasts charity chosen as one of Downing Street’s two official causes for 2013 has promised to use the position to educate ministers about the true scale of childhood hunger in the UK.
Carmel McConnell, chief executive of Magic Breakfast, which provides free, healthy breakfasts to pupils in 200 primary schools but has a waiting list of 140 more, said she planned to request one-on-one chats with Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, and Michael Gove, the education secretary, to impress on them that hunger among children was not restricted to feckless or workshy families.
The charity was named along with Friends of the Elderly as Downing Street’s official charity partners for next year, a selection made by No 10 staff.
McConnell – who stressed her comments were not party political and complained that Labour largely ignored the issue while in office – said: "The feckless parent argument is noise. I don’t see the data behind it at all. I’ve asked as part of this partnership to have a one-to-one with Iain Duncan Smith and a one-to-one with Michael Gove to say: ‘can we make the case for children being fed at breakfast time?’ I think Number 10 have taken a bit of a chance on us, to be honest. We are genuinely challenging."
Demand for the charity’s services had "gone through the roof", McConnell said. "It’s getting much worse and that’s directly related to the shakedown of jobs that’s come out of the recession. We make the point everywhere that the majority of parents we’re helping are new poor.
"When I talked to mums who say: ‘I’ve never had my child crying from hunger before’, that breaks your bloody heart. I know how to run a campaign. But my heart is broken every week."
McConnell said she hoped the Downing Street connection would assist with bringing in donors: "I’m hoping it will bring some business leaders to us, people like the supermarket giants. It will give us a bit more credibility with them."
She promised to counter talk about "scroungers". "I would love the opportunity to have a proper chat with Iain Duncan Smith about the fact that most of the parents we support are working parents and their kids are hungry. It’s just not true that there’s this vast number of people taking the mickey on benefits. It breaks my heart. I talk to Somali mums who are working two jobs and can’t have dinner themselves because they’ve got to put food on the table for their kids. That distresses me so much. All of this emboldens me to make the case for what these kids need.
"I really hope that we can bring to government a sense of what we are seeing on the ground. I’ll respect the fact that some people don’t come into close contact with poverty. I didn’t before I did this."
Some connect the huge growth in demand for such charities to government policies, but McConnell identified a wider political failure, saying that when Labour was in office she petitioned a series of ministers. "I begged them for help and they just told me to go away," she said.
With one school telling her it had all but abandoned morning lessons because children were too hungry to concentrate before lunch, McConnell said, the issue transcended party politics: "It’s not a question of left versus right. It’s a human rights issue of child hunger."