I’m sure readers are as excited as I am about the Olympic games. As this years European City of Sport Stoke-on-Trent has a unique opportunity to use this year’s games as a springboard to a local legacy of health, fitness and sporting prowess.
But the Rio Olympics have also been a rallying point for a wider campaign to tackle one of the issues that I have been campaigning on since my election – the scourge of child poverty and holiday hunger.
Child poverty remains a serious issue here in North Staffordshire, as the government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation makes clear. Stoke-on-Trent as a whole is ranked as the 13th most deprived authority out of 326. In one school in my constituency 52% of pupils qualify for free school meals.
But this is not just a local issue. A recent survey found that almost three quarters of teachers across the UK have seen pupils coming to school hungry ad over a quarter said they had given food to hungry pupils themselves.
This problem only gets worse during the school holidays. A recent report by Kellogg’s found that a third of parents have skipped a meal so that their kids could eat during the school holidays. Seeing our children going hungry is heartbreaking, and it has real consequences for their learning and development.
We know that too many children in this country are failing to fulfil their potential simply because they do not have access to decent, nutritious food.
We can’t start to narrow this attainment gap until we recognise the gulf in opportunity between our poorest students and the rest. Nor can we expect teachers, even great teachers, to keep a child’s development on track without dealing with these inequalities. We can’t keep pretending that inspiration alone can overcome starvation.
It’s heart-breaking to see this level of hunger in our own communities, in one of the richest countries in the world. But the Making Rio Count campaign offers clear goals and fresh opportunities to improve the lives of the poorest.
In the years since the London Games the International Development Goals have been agreed by the UN General Assembly and set ambitious targets for all countries, developed and developing, rich or poor. The primary goal is simple: to end hunger in our lifetime.
It also challenges all nations, including the UK, to ensure access to safe nutritious and sufficient food all year round, especially for children and young people.
Charities and campaigners have been working hard to tackle the awful plight of our most vulnerable children, with organisations such as the Alice Charity working to highlight and alleviate the problem.
But this is a national problem and it needs a national solution. We cannot expect charities and community groups to tackle the crisis of child food poverty by themselves, the Government must recognise the problem and support plans to fix it. Making Rio Count is our opportunity to put the issue on the agenda and push the Government to act.
Now the games are upon us and the sport and the spectacle will give all of us reason to cheer. But the Olympics has always been more than just a display of athleticism.
Its message of struggle and improvement, of being the best that we can be, should inspire all of us - not just the elite athletes among us. And it is an ambition that applies as much to societies as to individuals.
So for this year’s games, lets all be inspired to Make Rio Count, and work together to help feed our kids and improve the lives of our young people.
(This article was originally published in The Sentinel)
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