Home-Start believes all our children should be well nourished and protected from hunger and poor nutrition.

Home-Start asks that these steps are taken to make a difference:

  • Urgent action is taken to make provision not only for children who receive free school meals, but also for the millions more who do not receive free school meals, but whose parents experience in-work poverty, who are also at risk of holiday hunger.
  • There is an increase in practical, peer-led support for families, which has no stigma and which is rooted in local communities. Such approaches do more than reduce food insecurity by feeding children and educating families about food preparation and nutrition, they also provide additional resources that improve wellbeing for parents and their children.
  •  Government invests equally in all communities to offer local programmes to address ‘Holiday Hunger’, which run during all school holidays and not just the summer.
  • Training and support is offered for all those working with children and families to increase awareness of the links between early adversity, parental stress and trauma and obesity

No child should go hungry, and families should not be having to make impossible choices in order to feed their children.


 “Many of our families are living in poverty and the children are suffering. Many of our parents are not feeding themselves in order to feed their children, and many are accessing the food bank to support their family. Many of our children are turning up at school and nursery hungry, and do not have breakfast.”

Home-Start Erewash

Increasing numbers of children living in poverty

The pandemic has changed all of our lives but not all families started in the same position. Government data showed that even before the pandemic, the number of children living below the poverty line had increased from 3.6 million in 2010 to 4.2 million in 2018/19.

The detrimental impacts of child poverty of course include families being unable to provide adequate nutrition for their children, as highlighted in research from the Trussell Trust in March 2020 which demonstrated an 81% increase in people turning to foodbanks compared to a year previously, and a 122% increase in food parcels to children.

Not all families have felt the impact of the pandemic equally. Whilst for some families the changes to our daily lives meant more time spent together bonding or developing new hobbies, for others the stresses of insecure housing, job insecurity, digital exclusion, loss of income and the increased direct risks of becoming unwell have meant an enormous burden of stress for families.

We welcomed the governments’ extension of free school meals into the summer holidays, along with other measures to address the immediate pressures felt by families, such as the £20 increase in Universal Credit, and we urge government to review and maintain these supports for families to secure the foundations of children’s health and wellbeing.

Further action needed

Now, more than ever, we must see further action from government to address child poverty. We are calling for a cross-departmental recovery plan that recognises the complexity and scale of the problem and addresses the root causes of poor nutrition and puts the needs of children and their families at its heart. Such a plan must support action at a local level to address food poverty and childhood nutrition - from health, education, charities and other community organisations. There is an urgent need to ensure that the existing gaps in outcomes between children from the poorest households and their more fortunate peers are not widened further as we recover from the pandemic.

Health inequalities begin at the very start of life and that impacts now will have lifelong consequences. It is not simply about ensuring that children receive adequate nutrition day to day, although this is paramount, we also know that stress and anxiety have many other long-term and devastating psychobiological effects, including increasing the chances of a wide range of illnesses, both physical and psychological, and ultimately early death as demonstrated in the Adverse childhood Experiences studies (ACES).

Parents who are already facing disadvantage can feel personally blamed for children falling behind, whether it is because they are not thriving academically, struggling with behaviour, experiencing poor mental and physical health, or suffering childhood obesity. These families can then be doubly deprived experiencing the additional stigma for issues that are instead caused by the effects of stress, uncertainty, challenging parenting, inequality and poverty.

More and more research demonstrates the relationship between stress, trauma and obesity, and childhood trauma, such as that incubated in families where prolonged and high levels of stress are experienced without the buffering effects of nurturing parental care to mitigate the impacts.

Obesity and lower socio-economic statuses

Obesity is related to the multiple stressors occurring due to lower socio-economic status and those from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be overweight as adults. Parents who themselves have experienced early adversities, or have an insecure attachment and are more likely struggle to regulate their own emotions, are also more likely to have children who prefer foods that are less healthy, and who are likely to become obese. This is in some part because of the food choices available to parents; to the challenges to parents capacities to plan meals or manage routines of mealtimes when they are experiencing high levels of stress; to parents and children using food as a comforter to compensate for unhappy feelings, but also the stress in itself is likely to drive physiological processes that mean the body stores fat as a result of metabolic changes.

"Feeling good about our lives and what we are doing will inevitably mean consuming less calories ... The causal relationship can feel backward: feeling good helps you to eat healthily, creating a virtuous cycle for those without stressors."

Dr Graham Music, Child Psychotherapist, author of Nurturing Natures

So, nutrition is about more than access to adequate food.  High stress levels disrupt metabolism and impact on weight-regulating hormones particularly in people who suffered childhood abuse or trauma. Ensuring that our children thrive means we must support parents to enable their children to eat healthily as well as shining a light on the wider determinants of health and wellbeing and campaigning for families to be supported to give children the environments they need to thrive.

Home-Start does this in the following ways:

  • Supporting parents with meal planning and budgeting for groceries
  • Helping parents with recipes for nutritious and affordable meals
  • Helping parents manage routines, such as mealtimes
  • Working with foodbanks to get much needed supplies to family homes
  • Campaigning to ensure children families can feed their children
  • Providing holistic support for families to address the challenges they face and reduce stressors