'No child should experience stigma': One Direction star Zayn Malik calls for free school meals for more children

8 November 2022, 06:56 | Updated: 8 November 2022, 07:04

Zayn Malik has urged Rishi Sunak to extend the free school meals scheme
Zayn Malik has urged Rishi Sunak to extend the free school meals scheme. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Former One Direction star Zayn Malik has called on Rishi Sunak to "give all children living in poverty" a free school meal amid the cost of living crisis.

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The singer, 29, urged the Prime Minister to use his November budget to extend the threshold to include young people from families on Universal Credit.

Malik, who relied on free school lunches as a child growing up in Bradford, is backing the Food Foundation's Feed The Future campaign.

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In his letter, he writes: "These children are suffering from lack of concentration, some even resorting to stealing food from school canteens because they are so hungry but can't afford to buy lunch.

"They are also feeling shame which is directly impacting their physical and mental health.

"I know what that shame feels like, I have seen it first-hand, as growing up in Bradford, I relied on free school meals.

"I personally experienced the stigma surrounding food insecurity.

"My hope is that in writing this letter we can all ensure that no child ever has to experience this hunger and stigma again as my experience is not unique; it is a struggle that many children in England are sadly going through right now."

Malik said he had experienced shame growing up
Malik said he had experienced shame growing up. Picture: Alamy

According to the Food Foundation, it is estimated that 800,000 children in England are living in poverty but do not currently qualify.

Malik says many parents are "already doing everything they can" and the Government support is "desperately needed".

Addressing Mr Sunak, he adds: "As Prime Minister, you have the power to change this.

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"Please act in good conscience and commit in your Budget on 17th November to giving all children living in poverty a free school meal.

"Children going hungry is not inevitable and should not come down to a political issue or ideology."

The government is under pressure to help children in poverty as the cost of living crisis worsens
The government is under pressure to help children in poverty as the cost of living crisis worsens. Picture: Alamy

Malik is the latest famous name to support wider access to free school meals, joining England football star Marcus Rashford and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, said: "Zayn's music has touched the lives of many millions of people.

"We are thrilled to be working together on the campaign and that he is becoming an ambassador.

"His own experiences as a child will resonate with many young people in Britain today whose voices go unheard."

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As part of the campaign, Malik is also urging people to write to their MPs on the issue.

The Bradford-born singer launched a solo career after leaving One Direction in 2015, a year before the boy band went on indefinite hiatus.

He shares a daughter Khai, two, with US catwalk star Gigi Hadid.

Malik found fame as part of One Direction, pictured here in 2014
Malik found fame as part of One Direction, pictured here in 2014. Picture: Alamy

Feed The Future is a campaign led by a coalition of organisations including the Food Foundation, Bite Back 2030 and Jamie Oliver Ltd.

A Government spokesperson said: "We have expanded access to free school meals more than any other government in recent decades, which currently reach 1.9 million children.

"We are also investing up to £24 million in our National School Breakfast Programme, which provides free breakfasts to children in schools in disadvantaged areas.

"In addition, eight million of the most vulnerable households will get at least £1,200 of cost-of-living support this year on top of benefit from the Energy Price Guarantee, meaning they will be eligible for support which exceeds the average rise in energy bills by hundreds of pounds."

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