Singer Zayn Malik published an open letter Tuesday on Instagram in which he urged Britain’s new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to expand the government’s free school meals program — and reminded Sunak that 800,000 children in poverty currently don’t qualify for it.
The former One Direction singer highlighted the current cost of living crisis and asked Sunak to “ensure no child living in poverty misses out on a hot nutritious meal at school” by expanding the benefit in Sunak’s November budget to include children in all households receiving Britain’s Universal Credit subsidy.
“These children are suffering from a lack of concentration, some even resorting to stealing food from school canteens because they are so hungry but can’t afford to buy lunch,” wrote Malik. “They are also feeling shame which is directly impacting their physical and mental health.”
“I know what that shame feels like,” the 29-year-old continued, “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 … a struggle that many children in England are sadly going through right now.”
Universal Credit, a monthly or bimonthly payment from the government enacted in 2012, subsidizes low-income households, the unemployed and disabled people who can’t work, according to the U.K. government. It’s comparable to unemployment benefits in the U.S.
In his letter, Malik cites figures from The Food Foundation, a charity that recently made him an ambassador. The organization found that 4 million children in the U.K. lived in homes without enough food and that nearly 1 in 5 British households had to reduce or skip meals in September, with some reporting that they went without food for an entire day. It also found that 800,000 children in poverty do not qualify for free meals because their households earn more than the program’s annual income threshold.
Malik’s plea to the prime minister comes at a pivotal time, as the U.K. government is currently attempting to resolve its 40 billion pound budget hole.
U.K. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was supposed to deliver a statement detailing how to resolve the matter in late October, but delayed the deadline until Nov. 17, per Politico. An expansion of the free school meals program might thus be sidelined due to budget cuts.
“As prime minister, you have the power to change this,” wrote Malik. “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.”
Other celebrities have made similar pleas. Manchester United player Marcus Rashford spoke to Petitions Committee Chairwoman Catherine McKinnell last year, and chef Jamie Oliver tweeted at Sunak about the matter in August.
“Zayn’s music has touched the lives of many millions of people,” Anne Taylor, executive director of The Food Foundation, told The Guardian. “We are thrilled to be working together…His own experiences as a child will resonate with many young people in Britain today whose voices go unheard.”