The economic fallout of the pandemic, Brexit and the fuel crisis is having a terrible impact across society, but particularly on poorer families and child poverty.

Nationally, 2.5 million children are estimated to live in households experiencing food insecurity. This carries a huge human cost which children are likely to bear for the rest of their lives, affecting their relationships, attainment, and health.

Locally, there was a shocking 33 per cent increase of 1,628 children entitled to free school meals in Brighton and Hove between May 2019 and May 2021. The total number of children in our city entitled to free school meals is now 6,568, according to the school census and that figure is already six months out of date and likely to rise further.

This spike in child poverty comes off the back of years of Tory government cuts.

In the past decade of Conservative rule, cases of malnutrition in the UK have almost doubled to over 10,000, whilst cases of the Victorian disease scurvy have also doubled. There are now more food banks in the UK than there are branches of McDonalds.

The recent bad news is that the Chancellor is pressing on with the cut to the standard element of Universal Credit. That’s a huge bite out of family budgets – £20 a week, £87 a month and £1,040 a year. This is an equivalent cut of £6 billion for disadvantaged families.

He did put a partial £2 billion fix in his budget to reduce the Universal Credit taper from 63p to 55p for every pound earned and increase the “in-work allowance” by £500. But, this still puts a £4 billion hole in family budgets.

This is compounded by Ofgem raising the energy price cap to £1,277, a 12.2 per cent jump and the largest ever increase to fuel bills. The government’s National Insurance rise will mean people in low-paid jobs will bear the brunt of the increase, when in-work poverty is at a record high.

Consequently, I of course welcomed the Household Support Fund at the recent recovery committee meeting, which is in effect another one-off emergency sticking plaster for the winter that the council is charged with distributing.

I was, however, disappointed the Green administration did not back Labour’s proposals to increase the value of supermarket food vouchers for children entitled to free school meals, from £15 each to £20 each per week.

Part of the distribution of funding in the report brought to recovery committee by the Green administration provides for a £15 supermarket food voucher each week over the October, Christmas, February and Easter holiday periods for children entitled to free school meals and for the existing Children’s Centre food bank.

The voucher scheme totals £840,000 out of £2.14 million and leaves a significant amount of £1.3 million to distribute in other ways and to other groups.

We all know the value of a balanced diet and it’s vital to enable families to be able to afford fresh protein, fruit and vegetables.

Data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that children in the poorest households are eating substantially less fruit and vegetables, with a shocking 0.3 per cent of the most deprived children eating the recommended amount of fresh fruit and vegetables compared with 8.4 per cent of all children.

Avoiding food waste was a top priority for low-income families surveyed, so parents frequently stick to a narrow range of food which they know their children will eat. Parents also said they prioritised their children’s food consumption over their own and reported having smaller portions or skipping meals altogether so their children could eat.

I’m sure we all agree that it would be very difficult to nutritiously feed a family with, say, hungry 11 and 14-year-olds on £30 a week, so I argued that the proposed voucher allocation of £15 had been set too low.

Of course, families need other resources to survive as well as food. So, Labour’s proposal to increase the supermarket vouchers to £20 per week per child, would also allow greater flexibility in the household budget for other essentials at this time of year, such as fuel and warm clothes.

We know the school meal voucher scheme has helped many families avoid needing emergency food support and that the vouchers give more dignity to families needing to access food. This system avoids the social stigma of going to ask a charity for help and also gives families more autonomy to ensure their food preferences and cultural and dietary needs are met.

For all these reasons and more, Labour argued strongly, but ultimately unsuccessfully, to increase the food voucher amount to support families in need.