Right now, the health of one in three children is at risk from the food they eat, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds are more than twice as likely to be affected by diet related ill health. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Bite Back 2030 is a youth-led movement, campaigning for a fairer food system; one where every child has access to healthy, affordable food, no matter where they live.
Working with more than 80 talented young campaigners across seven youth boards, we help them share their stories in a way that makes people pay attention. Something you can see in our current campaign, where we’re demanding that the Government takes action to support families by extending free school meals to all children living in poverty. A campaign that is making sure that young people have access to the regular, nutritious food that they need to thrive at its heart.
Here’s how we’re supporting Bite Back’s amazing young campaigners to create change…
The importance of youth voices
In spaces which have been dominated by adults (and which have utterly failed child health) we know that a single young person can make people sit up, listen and think in a new way about solutions. For a policy-maker, it’s impossible to dispute one of our young campaigners sharing the experience they had yesterday at their school canteen, or outside the school gates where the options at the local takeaway are far cheaper, but much less nutritious.
With the threshold for accessing support set extremely low (a take-home household income of just £7,400 or less is required), we know children are being held back. Our job as comms professionals is to secure space for young people to drive change, by having platforms to share their experiences. Whether that’s through media interviews, our own digital content or by getting a seat at the table (like when our Campaigner in Residence Christina secured Michael Gove’s backing for the campaign while speaking at a Tory Party conference).
Keeping up momentum
Having launched our current petition back in June 2022, our campaign is clearly a marathon, not a sprint. We’re in a deeply challenging political landscape, with competing pressures on decision makers, so a key ingredient of the campaign has been flexibility to build and sustain pressure over time. To do this, we’ve used a mix of digital content, media engagement and behind the scenes outreach to keep the pressure up.
We started by building on the success of our 2020 campaign to extend free school meals into the holidays during the COVID-19 lockdown, and partnered with Change.org to re-engage supporters. This enabled us to grow support to more than 250,000 petition signatures and counting. Then in September we gave the campaign a fresh burst of life with a powerful campaign film produced in partnership with The Visuals Team and featuring members of our youth boards speaking directly to the Prime Minister about the need for urgent action.
Keeping momentum up by sharing stories at a local level as well as national, connecting our local campaigners to regional press, and making sure they are driving content on our social media channels has all been key to our success so far. And the willingness of young people such as Sam, Rizwan and Brooke sharing their experiences with publications like Byline Times has been vital to helping the public understand the reality for young people across the country.
With the campaign now spanning three(!) different Prime Ministers, it’s certainly not been plain sailing. Recently, the Government missed a huge opportunity to support families and children through their Autumn Statement in November 2022 – a gutting, but unsurprising decision. And as Youth Board member Molly, aged 17, said in a film we shared shortly after: “It’s not them being oblivious, it’s purposeful ignorance. When you’re seeing that there’s a cost of living crisis and that so many people are struggling… you’re not unaware as a Government, you know your country.”
Harnessing the energy of young campaigners as we go into a new year
Campaign calls with our youth boards have been buzzing with creative ideas for the new year. Conversations with journalists continue. Plans for action in Westminster are underway (including some eye-catching adverts at Westminster tube station to welcome MPs back to Parliament this week).
We continue to develop our approach; whilst media coverage of the issue has been significant and sustained, narratives of ‘us and them’ and references to ‘hungry children’ risk reinforcing negative stereotypes and judgements. Our job as comms professionals is to encourage journalists to dig deeper, engage more authentically with young people themselves and give time to a new set of ideas; that what surrounds us shapes us, and that changes to the food environment is where the real opportunity lies for children’s health.
Take a recent interview for iNews with Bite Back campaigner Victor, aged 15, in which he explained: “Topping up your school meal account with £30 doesn’t seem like much, but the £30 could help pay for five days of electricity at home.” Brilliantly, Victor sums up in one sentence how the benefits of extending free school meals support for families go beyond simply putting food on plates to playing a massive role in tackling the rising cost of living – not to mention the health benefits of 190 days’ worth of nutritious school lunches throughout the year.
In the words of campaigner Sam, aged 16: “Actions speak louder than words, and we’re not getting the action that we need.”
Young people deserve better than this, and as they lead the fight to transform our food system, our role as charity communicators is to help make space for this to happen and to support them every step of the way.
See how charities are tackling some of the biggest issues of our time on our dedicated social issues hub.
Bite Back 2030 will also be speaking at our upcoming Social Media Network: Video content creation
Banner Image: Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels