Zayn Malik has called on Rishi Sunak to “give all children living in poverty” free school meals during the cost of living crisis.
The former One Direction singer, 29, who relied on free school lunches as a child growing up in Bradford, recently became an ambassador for the Food Foundation and is backing its Feed the Future campaign.
Malik has written to the prime minister, urging him to use the government’s November budget to extend the threshold for free school meals to include young people from families on universal credit.
He is the latest famous person to support wider access to free school meals, joining the England footballer Marcus Rashford and the chef Jamie Oliver.
In his letter, the singer writes: “These children are suffering from lack of concentration, some even resorting to stealing food from school canteens because they are so hungry but can’t afford to buy lunch.
“They are also feeling shame, which is directly impacting their physical and mental health. I know what that shame feels like, I have seen it first-hand, as growing up in Bradford I relied on free school meals. I personally experienced the stigma surrounding food insecurity.
“My hope is that in writing this letter we can all ensure that no child ever has to experience this hunger and stigma again as my experience is not unique; it is a struggle that many children in England are sadly going through right now.”
According to the Food Foundation, about 800,000 children in England are living in poverty but do not currently qualify for free school meals. Malik says many parents are “already doing everything they can” and government support is “desperately needed”.
Addressing Sunak, he adds: “As prime minister, you have the power to change this. Please act in good conscience and commit in your budget on 17th November to giving all children living in poverty a free school meal. Children going hungry is not inevitable and should not come down to a political issue or ideology.”
Anna Taylor, the executive director of the Food Foundation, said: “Zayn’s music has touched the lives of many millions of people. We are thrilled to be working together on the campaign and that he is becoming an ambassador. His own experiences as a child will resonate with many young people in Britain today whose voices go unheard.”
As part of the campaign, Malik is urging people to write to their MPs on the issue.
The Bradford-born singer launched a solo career after leaving One Direction in 2015, a year before the boyband went on indefinite hiatus.
Feed the Future is a campaign led by a coalition of organisations including the Food Foundation, Bite Back 2030 and Jamie Oliver Ltd.