Northern Ireland news

Rally calls for free school meals for all

Dozens attended the Right to Food rally in Belfast at the weekend

There have been calls for free school meals for all at a Right to Food rally in Belfast.

Dozens of people took part in the protest outside Belfast City Hall on Saturday.

Organised by SDLP councillor Paul Doherty, the rally was one of several held in the north and Britain over the weekend.

 

Dozens attended the Right to Food rally in Belfast at the weekend

 

Mr Doherty, a founder of Foodstock, a food bank charity operating in west Belfast, said his group was helping around 500 families across Belfast every week.

“It is so difficult to see people in our community go through this," he said.

“[We have spoken] to families who are struggling to feed their children breakfast and teachers hiding extra lunches for pupils they say are going to school hungry. This is not on.

“We help facilitate breakfast clubs right across the city, and it's just hard to believe that in 2023 we now have foodbanks supporting schools, but this is the crisis we are in."

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Mr Doherty said people from all backgrounds are struggling.

“We have volunteers working day and night to provide packages to those in need, but it's getting harder to fill the shelves because it's not just those on low incomes that are struggling to put food on the table, it's middle income now too," he said.

“It's affecting everyone and no one can even afford to donate.

“Christmas is coming up and it's going to get colder, so the struggle to heat homes is also going to hit hard this year."

 

A Right to Food rally was held in Belfast at the weekend

 

The SDLP man said communities "have been well and truly decimated as a result of some of the political decisions made".

"People are living in real crisis and stress,” he added.

Mr Doherty called for new laws at Stormont and Westminster to introduce free school meals for all.

 “These steps would improve the lives of millions of families across these islands, resulting in better physical and mental health outcomes, reduced crime and alleviated poverty," he said.

The campaign is being supported by trade unions and celebrities including former Countdown presenter Carol Vorderman.

She tweeted:  “Due to reckless decisions from government, including Sunak, half a million more children fell into poverty in 2021/22.

“The latest total is 4.2 million children living below the poverty line. I grew up in poverty. I know the difference help makes.”

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