Unicef has defended its decision to fund emergency food aid in the UK for the first time in its history, following criticism in Parliament.
The charity said that it was responding to an “unprecedented crisis” in child hunger in the UK, after Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Conservative MP and the Leader of the House of Commons, accused Unicef of pulling “a political stunt”.
Unicef UK said that it will use £700,000 of its funds to support community groups around the country next year.
It is time for 'everyone to roll their sleeves up'
Unicef announced on Wednesday that it was giving a £25,000 grant to the charity School Food Matters, which would work with Southwark council in south London to supply breakfast boxes to families over the Christmas holiday.
At the time Anna Ketley, director of programmes and advocacy at Unicef UK, told Sky News: “We are recognising that this is an unprecedented situation which requires everyone to roll their sleeves up, step in and support children and families that need it most at this time."
Government: This is a cheap stunt
Labour MP Zarah Sultana asked about the charity’s decision in the House of Commons yesterday, and Rees-Mogg said: “I think it’s a real scandal that Unicef should be playing politics in this way, when it is meant to be looking after people in the poorest, the most deprived places in the world, where people are starving, where there are famines, where there are civil wars.
“And they make cheap political points of this kind, giving I think £25,000 to one council.
“It is a political stunt of the lowest order.”
Rees-Mogg said that 100,000 fewer children in the UK now lived in “absolute poverty” compared with 2010, when the Conservatives came to power.
He added: “Unicef should be ashamed of itself”.
The Children's Society estimates that four million children in the UK currently live in poverty.
Support for Unicef
In response to Rees-Mogg, Kettley said: “Unicef UK is responding to this unprecedented crisis and building on our 25 years’ experience of working on children’s rights in the UK with a one-off domestic response, launched in August, to provide support to vulnerable children and families around the country during this crisis period.
“In partnership with Sustain, the food and farming alliance, over £700,000 of Unicef UK funds is being granted to community groups around the country to support their vital work helping children and families at risk of food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Unicef will continue to spend our international funding helping the world’s poorest children.
“We believe that every child is important and deserves to survive and thrive no matter where they are born.”
Other aid charities have backed Unicef’s decision, including Save the Children UK, which tweeted: “We stand with Unicef UK as they provide this vital support to children in the UK.”