On 2 March 2023 Jake and Dasha, alongside Barnardo’s CEO Lynn Perry and actress Michelle Collins, delivered a petition of over 32,000 signatures to Downing Street. The petition calls on the Government to roll out free school meals for all primary school pupils in England. Jake (22) and Dasha (16) have worked with Barnardo’s for several years and share their thoughts on the petition and the experience of visiting Downing Street.
What was it like going to Downing Street to hand in the petition?
What Jake said: Going to Downing Street felt surreal, but it was also an amazing experience to help make a difference to the lives of children and young people in the country. It is a huge achievement for Barnardo's, and it’s great to be able to represent Barnardo's with this petition.
What Dasha said: It was exciting to go to 10 Downing Street. I really enjoyed handing in the petition and felt proud to be a part of it because it’s an important issue that affects a lot of children across England and it should be taken seriously.
Watch Dasha and Jake hand in Barnardo's free school meal petition to 10 Downing Street.
Why do you think the lack of free school meals for all primary school children is an important issue?
What Dasha said: It’s sad that kids have to worry about if they’re going to eat when they should be having fun with their friends. Primary school kids are so young, and they shouldn’t have to worry about that.
What Jake said: It’s important because I know what it’s like struggling and I know what it’s like for my family and friends to struggle. In single income families it gives them one less thing to worry about instead of having to scrape up money to give lunch to their kids. In this cost-of-living crisis, everything is going up except for pay, even though it was already hard to afford food, it’s even harder now.
Growing up you both received free school meals, what difference did that make to you?
What Jake said: For me, waking up in the morning, I didn’t know if I was going to get breakfast, so going to school knowing that I have food there and that might be the only meal that I had that day, it gave me something to look forward to, and it gave me some hope.
What Dasha said: It’s helped me a lot not having to worry about what I can eat and knowing I can eat at school. Free school meals allowed my family to buy other important things such as clothes.
How is the cost-of-living crisis affecting you and the people you know?
What Jake said: I was homeless for two months, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to afford a place of my own being on the wage I am now as a care-worker, it was my senior at work that helped me to find a new place and housemate. Even now it’s still a struggle, but now that I have a housemate it has helped a lot to be able to cut the costs in half but even then, it’s still very hard.
What Dasha said: During the winter a lot of people couldn’t afford to pay for heating. I think because you’re low on money you can’t really do fun things anymore, so you’re just stuck in the house all day.
How have you been supported by Barnardo's?
What Dasha said: I’ve taken part in a few groups in Barnardo’s and it helped me as a distraction from other things. Doing interviews and other group projects, it’s helped me feel more part of a team and gain more confidence.
What Jake said: I’ve been a part of Barnardo’s for just over 10 years, and at first I thought it was just something to do to get out of the home that I was in. But as I’ve started to get involved in more voice and influence activities such as children in care council and B-Amplified, I’ve realised the impact it has on other people and the way it has shaped me to become a better person and be more true to myself and be my true self.
If you could hand the petition directly to the Prime Minister, what would you say to him?
What Jake said: I’d explain to him the issues poverty causes and maybe say if he had experienced poverty maybe he’d understand what it’s like and what it’s been like for people like me. We never got things handed to us or had opportunities fall into our lap, I’d tell him how much this petition means to single income families and how much of a difference it can make, and how it can be a better step in the right direction for younger generations.
What Dasha said: I think there isn’t enough support for low-income families and all children should have equal opportunity to be successful and achieve things. Free school meals is a step in the right direction to achieve that.
What would you like the Government to do to support young people and their families with the cost-of-living?
What Dasha said: Invest more into schools and youth services because youth clubs often provide food as well and a place to offer more support to young people. If schools had more money they could give children more opportunities to gain more skills and have a better environment to learn. In my school there isn’t much money so we don’t have enough supplies for art and practical subjects and sometimes we have to pay for them, which is hard for low-income families.
What Jake said: More money and more opportunities in terms of helping families being able to afford to live, food, heating and gas, the basic necessities. More families are using food banks and I’ve had to use them myself and I’ve always felt embarrassed because I couldn’t afford food. I think that’s what a lot of families feel, embarrassment and anger.