Westminster Social Policy Forum

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7538736244 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7951044809.
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Next steps for tackling child poverty and hunger in the UK - access to education, impact of COVID-19, and priorities for policy and support

Morning, Wednesday, 26th May 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference will discuss next steps for tackling child poverty and hunger.

The timing is significant. The conference will be bringing together stakeholders with key policymakers in the context of:

  • COVID-19 - the impact on households of economic pressures and rising unemployment in the wake of the pandemic
  • the National Food Strategy - which was commissioned by government and has called for immediate action to tackle child hunger
  • free school meals - with the Government extending the scheme to cover school holidays, following the child food poverty campaign sparked by Marcus Rashford
  • the Universal Credit uplift - with calls for its extension

Areas for discussion include:

  • the scale and scope of the problem - latest thinking, data and projections for poverty affecting children
  • key issues and priorities - employment, regional inequalities, universal credit, and supporting groups most affected
  • access to education - catching up and the impact of digital poverty
  • addressing child hunger - food poverty, key initiatives and the National Food Strategy
  • the challenge for policy - overall priorities for how government and stakeholders tackle child poverty now, in the shadow of the 2020 target for child poverty eradication set in the 2010 Child Poverty Act

The discussion is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend from DfE; the DWP; MHCLG; Social Security Scotland; the Education and Training Inspectorate, NI; the Department for Communities, NI; and the Welsh Government.

The agenda

  • Child poverty in the wake of the pandemic
  • Policy priorities for addressing child poverty after the 2020 targets
  • Addressing inequalities in child health - the importance of protecting children from poverty and adversity
  • Tackling child poverty and supporting groups most affected - Universal Credit, regional disparities, employment and cost of living
  • Digital poverty and improving children’s access to education during and after the pandemic
  • Strategies for tackling food poverty amongst children and harnessing the National Food Strategy
  • Addressing child hunger - improving support available for families, free school meals, foodbanks, and creating a joined-up system

Key areas for discussion:

Child poverty in the wake of the pandemic:

  • universal credit - with calls to extend the temporary £20 UC top-up, and the impact on child poverty of the expected removal of the increase in April, with discussion on:
    • rising living costs - their impact in the wake of the pandemic, and the adequacy of support
    • income supplements - exploring options for offering support focused on child poverty in England, and following the recently rolled out Scottish Child Payment
  • regional disparities - supporting areas hit hardest by the economic impact of the pandemic and those with longstanding issues around child poverty, including:
    • improving funding for children’s services
    • creating and strengthening partnerships between local and combined authorities
  • employment - assessing the contribution of the furlough scheme to mitigating rising levels of poverty amongst households and carers, as well as:
    • household living standards - the impact of access to education and local labour market opportunities
    • the Lifetime Skills Guarantee - how it can best be used to increase access to high-skilled, well-paid work
  • groups hit hardest - looking at particular issues for children who are carers, who suffer from disabilities, or are subject to abuse, and those with challenges in marginalised minority groups:
    • improving the evidence base and data gathering, as well as the use of targeted services and support
    • the impact so far of the two-child policy on UC across communities with higher proportions of larger households

Access to education and addressing digital poverty:

  • catch-up learning - assessing the impact, practicalities and implementation of government plans for summer school learning in England
  • local initiatives - looking at best practice in supplying, repurposing, and donating devices to disadvantaged children, as well as learning from these schemes
  • funding - evaluating the impact of governmental support and investment
  • the role of businesses - actions taken by media and internet providers to improve access to key educational platforms, and assessing what more can be done by businesses to help UK children

Tackling child hunger:

  • free school meals - discussing ways to ensure quality and nutritional value, and comparing the offering provided by vouchers versus pre-prepared meals, as well as:
    • provision into the future - opportunities for shaping future practice following changes during the pandemic
    • balancing support with value - evaluating the roll-out of additional support from the DfE during the pandemic, and providing value for money for the taxpayer
    • the responsibility of education providers - looking at the role of school resources and staffing on catering arrangements and the provision of free school meals
  • joining up services - with discussion on:
    • innovations in providing access to food to families struggling during the pandemic
    • the role of the third sector and foodbanks
    • improving data and resource sharing between health, education and social services
    • dovetailing with the policy drive to tackle obesity and improve access to nutritious food
  • the National Food Strategy - the impact of recommendations on tackling child hunger, next steps in areas of immediate concern, and the way forward for implementation of:
    • a root-and-branch review and strategy for the food system
    • improvements in food security
    • reform of the food system in the wake of exiting the European Union

Policy priorities and aims after the 2020 targets:

  • establishing aims for the future - considerations for possible follow-up goals in light of predictions of increasing child poverty post-pandemic
  • evaluating criteria - discussing best practice for deciding definitions and measurements of child poverty on which to base future policy and evaluate effectiveness
  • lessons learned from past efforts - learning from and evaluating previous advances in lowering levels of child poverty in the early 2000s
  • evaluating previous efforts - looking at concerns raised about the effectiveness of the 2010 goals

Relevant developments:

  • The National Food Strategy - the independently-led review into the UK’s food system, commissioned by the Government, that has called for immediate action to tackle child hunger, including to:
    • expand eligibility for free school meals to cover all children with a parent or guardian receiving Universal Credit
    • broaden the Holiday Activity and Food Programme to cover all of England
    • increase the value of Healthy Start Scheme vouchers to £4.25 a week
  • End child food poverty - no child should be going hungry - petition to the UK government and parliament which received over 1m signatures following Marcus Rashford’s campaign on child food poverty:
    • calling for a root-and-branch review into the free school meals system
    • prompting the government to extend free school meals for disadvantaged children to cover school holidays
  • Universal Credit £20 weekly increase must be extended to prevent hundreds of thousands falling into poverty - a recent report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee
  • government support - including:
    • the COVID Winter Grant Scheme, the extended Holiday Activities and Food programme in 2021 and an increase to the Healthy Start scheme payments
    • for living standards, job retention and professional development during and after the pandemic including the Job Retention Scheme and the Lifetime Skills Guarantee
  • free school meals - National free school meals voucher scheme opens to orders and the earlier extension by the government to free school meals throughout lockdown school closures
  • Get help with technology during coronavirus (COVID-19) - a range of support introduced by the DfE to help disadvantaged children get access to remote education during the pandemic
  • the child poverty policy backdrop - including:
    • the two-child limit policy - introduced in 2017 and limiting Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit to two children in a family
    • the Child Poverty Act 2010 - setting a target for eradicating persistent child poverty by 2020, with aims such as reducing the percentage of children living in households of relative poverty to under 10%
  • forecasts for UK living standards in the wake of the pandemic - including the prediction in The Living Standards Outlook 2021 that by 2024-25 one in three children will be living in poverty
  • Child poverty: the crisis we can’t keep ignoring - the Children’s Commissioner for England publishing a cross-party call for government action in light of heightened problems during the pandemic
  • The Childhood Commission - launched by the Children’s             Commissioner for England aiming to identify the key issues facing young people and set out solutions, along with ambitious targets to keep government and local authorities accountable
  • Child poverty and devolution in North East England - recent research by IPPR North on child poverty, with recommendations for:
    • dealing with child poverty to be central to future devolution deals and regional funding plans
    • combined authorities to work to understand the implications of their investment and policy on levels of child poverty
    • collaboration on addressing child poverty to be strengthened between combined authorities, and constituent local authorities, including by sharing resources and learning
  • Call for evidence: Children in poverty: Measurement and targets - the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry, looking at:
    • measurement - how best to measure and define child poverty, its impact, and how the DWP should be working with other departments to tackle child poverty
    • the social security system - how well it is working for children, including children of parents with no recourse to public funds, and support offered for separated families and working parents
  • DfE “surprisingly unconcerned” on whether free school meals contractor was “profiting at taxpayers’ expense” - Public Accounts Committee report, including recommendations for the DfE to:
    • user-test new systems that are intended to be used by parents and schools to ensure they are able to meet expected demand for helpline support
    • improve its commercial evaluations of contracts to ensure it provides value for money for taxpayers
    • improve data sharing with DWP to boost flexibility in the supply of free school meals for those eligible

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the Department for Communities, NI; the Department for Education; the DWP; the Education and Training Inspectorate, NI; the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government; Ofsted; Social Security Scotland and the Welsh Government.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government officials in this area of public policy, together with other stakeholders involved with or affected by action against child poverty and hunger, including children’s charities, family support groups, social workers, public health bodies, nutritionists, schools, local government, community leaders, regional programme coordinators, housing groups, businesses and economic consultancies, researchers in academia and higher education, as well as reporters from the national and specialist media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speakers

Sammy Wright

Commissioner, Schools and Higher Education, Social Mobility Commission

Dr David Taylor-Robinson

Professor of Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool

Alison Garnham

Chief Executive, Child Poverty Action Group

Anna Taylor

Executive Director, Food Foundation and Chief Independent Adviser to Henry Dimbleby for the development of the National Food Strategy


Baroness Stroud

Chief Executive Officer, The Legatum Institute

Ian Byrne MP

Vice Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on the National Food Strategy


Imran Hussain

Director, Policy and Campaigns, Action for Children

Councillor Kate Booth

Cabinet Member, Children’s Wellbeing, Birmingham City Council

Clare McNeil

Associate Director, Institute for Public Policy Research

Matt Morden

Co-Head Teacher, Surrey Square Primary School, London

Ben Levinson

Head teacher, Kensington Primary School

Stephen Forster

National Chair, LACA - The School Food People

Rory Weal

Policy & Public Affairs Manager, Trussell Trust

Cllr Richard Watts

Leader, Islington Council, and Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Resources Board

Edward Davies

Head of Policy, Centre for Social Justice