For many families with school age children across the UK, the summer holiday is a time of increased anxiety as the struggle against food poverty becomes even more acute. A report published by Feeding Britain in December 2017, ‘Ending Hunger in the Holidays’, found:
- An estimated 3 million children in the UK are now at risk of holiday hunger
- The loss of free school meals outside of term time costs families between £30 and £40 per week
- 19% of children under 15 live with someone who is at risk of going hungry or malnutrition
As well as having negative consequences for health and wellbeing, holiday hunger also impacts on educational attainment. Children in the most deprived areas of the country may suffer a decline or stagnation in spelling skills over the summer holidays, and can take weeks to make up the learning loss, contributing to a widening of the overall attainment gap.
With the average cost of childcare in the holiday period reaching £124 per week (more than double that of term time), the added financial pressure during the period can, for many families already struggling, become overwhelming.
In an attempt to unearth the extent of holiday hunger and address the issue at government level, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger, led by Frank Field MP, conducted an enquiry into the subject in early 2017. The enquiry led to a report that mapped the causes and impacts of holiday hunger and made recommendations on how best to address the growing crisis. The School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill 2017-2019, which followed, recommended the government adopt a set of reforms. Chief amongst these was the recommendation that Local Authorities have a statutory requirement to facilitate and coordinate the distribution of free meals and activities during the holidays.
Whilst the Bill received cross party support in parliament, it failed to pass its second reading in January of this year. Instead, it became the catalyst for a new pilot scheme, announced by Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi in March. The new pilot, The Holiday Activities and Food Research Fund, has allocated £2m to undertake research into holiday hunger this summer, with a further targeted pilot taking place in the Easter and Summer holidays of 2019.
The fund is expected to feed 30,000 under-18s in some of the most deprived areas of the UK and is to be split between seven projects, who will distribute the funds to organizations delivering the programmes. The seven projects are: Children North East, Family Action, Feeding Britain, Birmingham Holiday Kitchen, On Side Youth Zones, Street Games and Transforming Lives for Good.
Ostensibly, the pilot scheme is an attempt to measure four key aspects around tackling holiday hunger: the effectiveness of interventions; the take-up of provision; identifying the costs involved; and whether there are particular areas where this kind of programme would be most effective. It is all the more crucial, therefore, that the delivery of the pilot is successful, and that best practice is upheld in order to guarantee future government funding.
OUR MEMBERS GET TO WORK
A number of QIPRO (Quids In Professional Network) members and organisations across the UK are involved in the pilot, with a number of programmes being run throughout the summer. One helping to deliver the initiative are housing provider Optivo. As part of the Street Games Fun and Fit scheme, Optivo are providing a summer long holiday project.
Vanessa Porter, Health & Wellbeing Project Officer at Optivo, told QIPRO: “It was recognised a couple of years ago that many families struggle to feed their children during holiday time so, working with delivery partner Active Hastings, a successful holiday project was established. The four-hour sessions are taking place at two community venues in Hastings and St Leonards. Healthy meals and snacks are provided (with the young people preparing the food) along with a range of fun, engaging activities.”
With this format of activities, food preparation and nutritional education being provided as well as meals on the day, the holiday clubs running over the summer provide myriad benefits. As well as tackling holiday hunger and food poverty, many of the programmes address multiple issues simultaneously, from social isolation to financial capability.
KICKING HUNGER INTO TOUCH
The forthcoming issue of Quids in! magazine features an interview with Ross Williams, Senior Football Development officer at the West Ham United Foundation, whose Holiday Hunger programme has provided over 1,164 healthy meals to date.
Until there is real political appetite to comprehensively address the root causes of food poverty and holiday hunger, holiday schemes such as those in Hastings and East London continue to provide an absolutely crucial lifeline to some of the most deprived families in the UK.