As the summer holidays begin, many families look forward to breaks away from home, in the UK and abroad. Yet for thousands of families, the six-week school break is characterised not by play schemes and day trips in the sun, but acute financial stress, hunger and malnourishment, due to the absence of free school meals for children on low incomes that costs a family £30-£40 a week. The Guardian reports.
With three million children at risk of hunger during the school holidays, the Trussell Trust has warned that food bank use spikes each summer. And last year, 593 organisations running holiday clubs across the UK provided more than 190,000 meals to over 22,000 school-aged children.
Feeding Britain, the charity set up by two Labour MPs, Emma Lewell-Buck and Frank Field, expects to provide meals for 27,000 children in 79 clubs across England this summer. In pilots in 2017, it provided a total of 43,314 meals in holiday fun clubs across eight areas, including Birkenhead, South Shields and Cornwall, in the summer holidays and October half term. Feeding Britain works with existing local charities, community groups, councils and others in the community providing funding and toolkits on how to run and roll out pilots, and creates networks for practical support. The clubs run in community centres, church halls, schools, children’s centres, libraries and parks, and they host games and activities for children, alongside breakfast, lunches, and lessons about food and nutrition for the young attendees.
Lewell-Buck, who is MP for South Shields and a member of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on hunger and food poverty said “It’s not stigmatising, because I think if you call it a ‘hunger club’ or something like that people will feel ashamed. And they shouldn’t feel ashamed, but people do. It’s a dereliction of the state that they are in that mess.”
She is currently shadow children’s minister and, as a recent social worker, is unequivocal about the challenges facing child protection. “It’s austerity. It has massively impacted on the levels of children coming into the system. The removal of all the early intervention services and downgrading of Surestart and family centres – all of that has had a massive impact. Things that used to keep children out of the system and out of care, I’ve seen it myself, they are gone. I was still in practice for the first three years [of the coalition government] and I could see things starting to change then. Now I’m in touch with a lot of my former colleagues who say it’s absolutely desperate. They just cannot stay afloat.”
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