Government pledges pilot projects to tackle holiday hunger

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The government has promised to introduce a series of pilot projects to deliver meals and activities to poor children during the school holidays.

It is a result of the second reading on Friday (January 19) of backbench MP Frank Field’s School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill, which was calling for a legal duty to be placed on councils to deliver “free meals and fun activities” for disadvantaged children during holiday periods.

Despite the support of more than 130 MPs, the Bill was not passed, but the during the debate the government did commit to conducting the pilots and acting on the findings.

The Bill came about after the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger, which Mr Field chairs. It found in its Hungry Holidays report last year that up to three million children risk going hungry during the school holidays, with negative implications for both their health and educational attainment.

It included evidence that many children’s diets during the holidays consisted just of things like crisps or “stodgy, unhealthy diets bought to fill hungry stomachs”.

The report said those at risk of hunger over the summer include more than one million children who receive free school meals during term time, and two million more with working parents who are still in poverty.

In his Bill, Mr Field had called on the government to ring-fence £41.5 million – 10p in every pound raised by the sugary drinks levy – to help local authorities fulfil his proposed duty.

Responding to the debate and the government pledge, Mr Field said: “It marks the first move in over 100 years by a government specifically committing itself to a programme of work to eliminate child hunger in school holidays. (There is) much more work to be done through pilot schemes and research, but a major step has been taken to end holiday hunger.”

The Bill has been supported by many charities and educational organisations, including the National Association of Head Teachers.

President Anne Lyons said: “Like many school leaders, I worry about what happens to the children in my school during the holidays. According to the Children's Society, there are four million children in the UK suffering the unnecessary tragedy of holiday hunger.

“NAHT’s own analysis from 2015 showed that schools were contributing around £43 million each year to help struggling families with the basics. That figure is unlikely to have decreased given that the cost of living continues to rise faster than wages.

“Holidays can be a time of enormous stress for families, particularly the ones that rely on their school for support with childcare, activities and heaven forbid, food. During term time, there are all sorts of other experiences that schools provide for young people at low or zero cost to parents that just aren’t available in the holidays. This forces families to dig even deeper into their pockets during the holidays, with financial commitments to activities running to hundreds of pounds in lots of cases.

“Cuts to local authority budgets now mean that the support they can offer families in the holidays is inadequate. Children who go hungry during the holiday often start the new term at a disadvantage compared to their more fortunate peers who have enjoyed a more wholesome diet and lots of activity. We have to change this urgently if we are serious about making the UK a fairer and more equal place to live.”

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