Tackling the scourge of holiday hunger

As we near the end of the school holidays, I have been thinking a lot this summer about holiday hunger – an estimated three million children in the United Kingdom are at risk of going hungry during the school holidays.

Three million. In 2019. In the UK. This is utterly shocking and a moral outrage in the world’s fifth biggest economy.

Children who are eligible for free school meals (FSMs) lose this provision in the holidays. Families already struggling to make ends meet have to shoulder the burden of additional childcare costs, as well as providing an additional meal on a weekday. For those living on the breadline already, this can easily tip them over the edge. According to the Trussell Trust, demand for food banks in the summer holidays last year soared by 20%.

Clearly, we need to tackle the underlying issues in relation to the benefits system and low pay as to why more than four million children in this country are living in poverty. However, these longer-term policy solutions will not alleviate the hunger children across our country are experiencing now. Provision needs to be made as a matter of course during school holidays for those children entitled to FSMs. A number of fantastic charities, churches, foodbanks and community initiatives are trying to fill this gap but provision is very patchy.

Two years ago, Frank Field MP sought to introduce legislation to require local authorities to make provision of free meals and activities during the school holidays to children in areas of high deprivation. The bill was withdrawn on the basis that government committed to undertaking two years of pilot projects in the holidays – some £2m was committed in 2018 to these pilots and £9.1m in 2019 for eleven projects across the country.

It’s time now for the Department of Education to urgently analyse the impact of these projects and, I hope, systematically roll out a funded programme across the country to tackle holiday hunger via local authorities. Whilst it makes sense to target the areas of highest deprivation, we must not forget that there are children living in poverty in what are considered affluent areas, like my own borough of Richmond-upon-Thames (we have four wards where 25-30% of children are living in poverty, after housing costs). Arguably, children living in poverty in more affluent areas are more likely to be overlooked, given they are not in a concentrated area of poverty, so these sorts of interventions are less likely to be targeted at them.

As a society, we have a moral responsibility to ensure no child goes to bed hungry at night. Government and local authorities must urgently provide part of the solution.

Photo is by Pedro Reyna from Flickr CCL

* Munira Wilson is a businesswoman, anti-Brexit campaigner and former parliamentary candidate, living in Twickenham.

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6 Comments

  • David Warren 27th Aug '19 - 12:58pm

    It is a national scandal that this is happening and is yet another example of how far the dismantling of the welfare state has gone.

    When I grew up in the 1970s their was a safety net. Thatcher started the process of eroding it and it has continued ever since.

    Liberals need to be at the forefront of developing policy that means no child goes hungry.

  • Well said, Munira.

    As Chair of Trustees of a Trussell Trust Foodbank I welcome your comments. Yes, there’s a crisis in the school holidays, but it’s all year round too – not just for children.

    In the last year we have assisted over 5,500 people – a third children, a third in employment, a third affected by Benefit changes including PIP and Universal Credit.

    In Twickenham you have access to Vince Cable. Please ask Vince to look at the UN Report on Poverty in the UK (by Prof. Philip Alston) which describes the situation.

    “Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

    Sadly, I must tell you, Munira, the Lib Dems are the only political party not to react to the Alston Report (the former DWP spokesperson just ignored it – and failed to acknowledge requests to do so). Please press Vince to use his remaining time in Parliament to champion this and give a lead to his parliamentary colleagues.

    And… it’s not just children and school holidays. Read yesterday’s Guardian about Ruth Lane. In work poverty exists…… all year round.

    “Widow of driver who died after hospital visit fine faces eviction …… https://www.theguardian.com › business › aug › widow-driver-ruth-don-la…
    21 hours ago – Ruth Lane has been served with an eviction notice after falling into rent arrears since her husband, Don, 53, collapsed and died from a heart attack related to diabetes. At the time he worked for the parcel delivery giant DPD in January 2018.”

  • Well, well. Five hours since I commented on this article and not a peep about inequality and poverty from anyone on LDV. Is this representative of what this once nominally radical party has become…… ?

    Now if I had posted a critical comment about Mr Corbyn (sorry, should have said, Corbyn)….. or even about the mesomorphic bumble occupying 10, Downing Street might we have raised a ripple ?

  • Kirsten Johnson 28th Aug '19 - 7:35am

    Thank you, Munira, for this excellent article. One in three children in parts of my constituency live in poverty. The rising use of the four North Devon Foodbanks is a sign of how bad things have become for local families, many in work but struggling on low incomes. If I’m elected, child poverty (and children’s rights as specified by UNCRC) is high on my list of priorities. Thank you for raising the specific issue of school holidays. I agree that we, as a party, need to take action on this.

  • HELP NEEDED NOW …… LDV READERS PLEASE RESPOND TO YOUR LOCAL FOOD BANK

    In the real world outside the Westminster bubble the Guardian Reports today :

    “Food banks in some of the UK’s poorest areas are running critically low on supplies because of a spike in demand during the school holidays. Organisers say more families are seeking help in the summer holidays than in previous years, yet donations are falling.

    Tricia Ryder, a distribution centre manager at Leeds North and West food bank, said: “We’re running critically low on supplies. The summer months are always the time when we get the least donations, but each summer we’re getting more and more attendants.”

    ‘Every day we see really hungry kids. They shouldn’t be living like this’

    Ryder said there had been a drop in donations over the summer, which she believed was due to people being less financially secure. “A lot of the people who donate outside of the summer holidays are people that are then struggling themselves when their children are off,” she said.

    “It’s really difficult because there may be occasions where people are not getting their regular food parcel because we’re low on certain things.”

    Like many of the food banks the Guardian spoke to, Leeds North and West, which has seven centres across the area, was short on items including long-life milk and juice, pasta sauce and tinned meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.”

    PLEASE HELP NOW

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