Nearly 17,000 of Southampton’s children (36%) are living in poverty and it can’t go on. To put this into context, a class of 30 at a local Woolston school will see 11 pupils suffering from the scourge of poverty. As the Leader of your Council, I’m writing today to explain how we’re taking action to ensure no Southampton child gets left behind.

Southampton City Council has just launched our ‘Feed the Future’ programme, with the ambition to abolish Child Hunger in our city by 2025. It starts with the distribution of free fruit and yoghurt programme in 10 schools across the city.

Fresh fruit and yoghurts will be provided to all primary school children who want them, ensuring no stigma or social pressure. Working with FareShare, the Council will be diverting surplus food from Supermarkets waste bins to our schools and helping to tackle our climate breakdown in the process.

The scheme will ensure that every child can access fresh fruit, goes through the school day with the option of healthy food, and improves their nutrition.

Southampton’s child hunger tragedy is part of a national crisis. A few months ago, the Child Poverty Action Group categorically showed that child poverty continues to climb across the UK. Today, there are 4.1million children living in poverty, but by 2022 another million will be added to this shameful figure. It comes as no surprise that it’s the cities with the largest number of children who are in greatest need.

Growing up in a council flat, I was taught and today believe, that if you work hard and apply yourself then you can succeed and should have a decent standard of living. But shockingly, two-thirds of families in food poverty are working households. When one of the richest and greatest countries will not adequately feed our future, it’s clear that something has gone wrong. Everyone deserves the chance to fulfil their potential.

The summer holidays might already be a memory. For most, they are a time of new experiences, quality family time and fun in the sun. But for too many, they are also a time of misery and missed meals. Schools provide more than an education— they are now relied upon to help provide basic sustenance to our children.

Holiday Hunger received a renewed focus this year. Numerous schools including two in Southampton, kept their kitchens opened throughout the holidays to help feed thousands of families.

But it is not just the school holidays where problems exist and many of our children are turning up to school hungry. Free School meals are a lifeline for these families, but not all are registered and it’s an unacceptable ask for our children to wait up to 10 hours between meals. On the frontline of this epidemic, teachers have taken to stocking snacks in their desks to give out to pupils to tide them over until lunchtime.

This is more serious than an occasional rumbling belly or being hangry. A child who is regularly hungry has a lower immune system, is worse behaved and learns less. Falling behind your peers ultimately entrenches disadvantage and prevents children from escaping poverty when they become adults.

Across the city, numerous charities, churches and schools have stepped up to fight this injustice and provide a range of services from food parcels to training courses.

One of those organisations taking a lead on this issue is City Catering. Formed by former City Council staff to become the UK’s first charitable catering company, they’re passionate about tackling this scourge. This summer, they held the first set of holiday hunger clubs where they invited families to come together, receive a meal, learn about nutritional cooking and take part in fun activities. In Valentine and Mansbridge Primary schools 1800 meals were given out during the summer holidays.

Later this month, they’ll be forming the ‘Southampton Holiday provisions Steering Group’ which the council will be part of. This work is to be commended, but to ensure that there’s a robust and enduring safeguard against hunger, it requires national and local government to act.

This is the start of the journey, but our goal is clear, no child should fear the bell signalling the start of the holidays or worry where their next meal is coming from. Your council, with others, will work to remove that unfair burden from all our children.