Already, 400,000 children go hungry in the capital, according to a survey of Londoners published by the Greater London Authority. Mr Read said this “huge figure” will increase to 500,000 because the pandemic is adding “layers of insecurity” onto families.
The rise in hungry children could have a catastrophic impact on education in in the capital, with academic improvements set back by a generation as children struggle to learn without having had enough food, he said.
The surging rate of hunger is mirrored across the country – with more than 3 million people reporting that they had gone hungry during the first lockdown. The number of adults who are food insecure in Britain is estimated to have quadrupled due to the pandemic, according to a report by the Food Foundation and King’s College London.
During the first lockdown 16.2 per cent of adults said they experienced food insecurity. In normal times, 3.8 per cent of adults in Britain are believed to experience it.
Mr Read said: “This is really a tragedy. We know that 400,000 children are hungry in London. We know that Covid is having an impact on this, and we are aware that if action is not taken, that number is going to go up to half a million children.
“The issue is massive. We know that food insecurity and hunger has an impact on children’s academic progress, and unless something is done about this now, this is going to set back pupils’ progress for potentially a generation.”
Mr Read praised The Independent’s Help the Hungry campaign, adding: “It is really important that there is action to address issues around food poverty and food insecurity in households. Food poverty has a long-term impact on young people. A healthy diet doesn’t only mean children will do better at school but children who are not well fed are more likely to develop mental health problems and stress, and as they get older they are more likely to suffer from diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.”
The capital’s schools have improved dramatically in the past decade, and children from poorer backgrounds do better here than anywhere else in the country. But Mr Read warned these advances could be put at risk if children are being left hungry.
Research shows that when pupils are not hungry, there’s an improvement in levels of pupil concentration in class, readiness to learn and behaviour.
Mr Read said that when children are hungry it is harder for them to concentrate and they are tired, which affects their ability to reach their potential. “That is what’s really sad,” he added.
He warned that as Christmas approaches, the stress that families are under will increase. He said: “Christmas has its own layers – the expectations, what it’s meant to mean and how it impacts on family life. It is already going to be different this year because of the lockdown. If on top of that you are worried about what is going to happen to your children during the holidays if you can’t feed them properly, that just adds layers of anxiety and insecurity.”
This November and December we will be delivering food directly to 1,000 people a day through our partner With Compassion. Please donate here to help us do all we can to ensure no one goes hungry this Christmas.