Have you ever gone to bed hungry?
Worse, have you ever woken up still hungry and gone through your day with a growling belly?
And I did so to make sure my child would have enough to eat instead.
When my daughter’s father left, he also left me with £8 in coins stacked up on a side table. He had emptied the bank accounts and even cancelled utilities, taking the refunds he got with him too.
I was halfway through writing a book with a mad but endearing astrophysicist. That book was never finished as I had to abandon it to focus on my traumatised child. Slowly, I learned to navigate the world of benefits and then steer my way out of it. I know how hard it is to make not enough last through a week that feels too long.
I remember turning pizza making into a game when, in fact, it was all I had to feed her. Fortunately for me, I know how to turn flour, an onion, a tin of tomatoes and a scrap of cheese into something edible. I also have the skills, resilience and sheer will to climb up out of disaster again and again.
Others are not so lucky. They don’t have the knowledge or the opportunity. Or they are simply ground down by a system that is so unnecessarily cruel that it shrugs as children and their families go hungry day after day.
There are few things worse than not being able to feed your child. As parents, it is a primal instinct to make sure our babies have enough to eat. You will go hungry to make sure that they don’t have to, as I did. But sometimes you just can’t fight overwhelming odds. Sometimes there simply is not enough food.
This week a motion to extend the free school meal vouchers scheme in England was voted down by the government. Those meals are a vital lifeline over the half term holidays which begin today. Throughout lockdown many schools across the country turned themselves into foodbanks, supplying and delivering food to their communities and especially the poorest kids who have borne the brunt of the pandemic.
Forced to learn at home for months, with exams cancelled, they not only went hungry but fell behind academically through lack of access to broadband or even a basic laptop from which to access their lessons.
Sure, some parents could educate their kids at home, often to the detriment of their own working lives. But try doing that from the women’s refuge where you’ve had to run as rates of domestic violence soared. Or from a homeless shelter or even the home where the walls feel as if they are closing in while your already tough life collapses around you, taking with it your last fragile grasp on sanity.
Demand at my local foodbank has gone up by 300% while donations have gone down. Many of the people using that foodbank would never have dreamed they would end up in line for a handout just to feed their families. I never dreamed I would end up awake night after night, terrified that the next day would be that day. The day I couldn’t give my child the basic fuel she needed to survive.
I can promise you that no politician’s child will go hungry today in the UK. But millions of others will in the fifth richest economy in the world. The government bleats on about a benefits system that we all know is not fit for purpose. So it’s up to the ‘ordinary’ people of this country to help one another.
The footballer Marcus Rashford, who kickstarted the free school meals voucher campaign and is famously the son of a single mother, has vowed to keep fighting. I have signed an open letter from 200 children’s writers and illustrators organised by the author Anne Booth that calls upon the government to give more support. It also states that we believe no child should go hungry this winter.
I believe no child should ever go hungry and nor should their families.
But belief is not enough.
We need to stand together and make sure this doesn’t happen now and never happens again.