Zayn Malik calls on Rishi Sunak to provide free school meals to 'all children living in poverty' during cost of living crisis
Singer Zayn Malik has called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to do "what's right" and "give all children living in poverty" free school meals during the cost of living crisis.
In an open letter to Mr Sunak, the former One Direction star said that "no parent should have to make impossible decisions like whether to buy food, turn on the heating, or go into debt" as the prices of food, housing and energy bills soar.
Malik, 29, grew up in Bradford, West Yorkshire, and relied on free school lunches as a child. Now a father himself, he is backing the Feed The Future Campaign urging the government to provide free school meals for all children from families on universal credit.
He becomes the latest star to support wider access to free school meals, following England footballer Marcus Rashford and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
It is estimated that 800,000 children in England are living in poverty and do not currently qualify, according to the Food Foundation, one of the organisations leading the campaign.
"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," Malik writes in his letter.
"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."
Malik, a recently named ambassador for the Food Foundation, is urging the prime minister to use his November budget to extend the threshold to include young people from families on universal credit.
The star says many parents are "already doing everything they can" and that government support is "desperately needed".
'You have the power to change this'
At the end of his letter, Malik addresses Mr Sunak, writing: "As prime minister, you have the power to change this.
"Please act in good conscience and commit in your budget on 17 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."
Food Foundation executive director Anna Taylor says she is "thrilled" to be working with Malik.
"His own experiences as a child will resonate with many young people in Britain today whose voices go unheard," she said.
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Malik launched his career as a solo artist after leaving One Direction in 2015, a year before the boy band announced an indefinite break.
He is a father to two-year-old daughter Khai with his ex partner, US model Gigi Hadid.
As part of the campaign, he is urging people in the UK to write to their MPs about the issue.
In response to his letter, a government spokesperson said: "We have expanded access to free school meals more than any other government in recent decades, which currently reach 1.9 million children.
"We are also investing up to £24 million in our National School Breakfast Programme, which provides free breakfasts to children in schools in disadvantaged areas.
"In addition, eight million of the most vulnerable households will get at least £1,200 of cost-of-living support this year on top of benefit from the Energy Price Guarantee, meaning they will be eligible for support which exceeds the average rise in energy bills by hundreds of pounds."