Summer’s over and children are now back to school, but not all kids will be miffed to get back to class. Those who have been starving because they rely on the free school meals they miss over the summer will be all too keen to return. We realised that holiday hunger has become an increasingly prevalent problem but there has also been a rise in the number of selfless people, organisations and charities doing good work to tackle it.
So we started campaigning to give those groups a platform as well as looking at the underlying issues that lead to holiday hunger.
We started with moving testimonies from four mothers, Karen Rotheram, Dawn Taplin, Nichola Salvato and Anne Newbould, as they told the Work and Pensions Committee and Education Committee their experiences.
“There’s always cereal, isn’t there?”
Newbould summed up that all-too-familiar story of sacrifice as she described foregoing food herself to feed her kids with the heartbreaking comment that: “There’s always cereal, isn’t there?”
Just days later The Trussell Trust, the UK’s leading foodbank charity, revealed that they gave out 20 per cent more emergency food parcels last summer than the previous summer. As many as 87,496 parcels were distributed as they absorbed the increased summer demand.
These personal testimonies were backed up by Professor Greta Defeyter. She heads up Northumbria University’s Healthy Living Lab and told us that central government’s £9.1m is enough to help 50,000 kids, not the three million who are estimated to be experiencing holiday hunger.
“If the government feels free school meals and breakfast clubs are needed during term time, why is it not available across the holidays?” Defeyter asked. “It’s the same child.”
Football fans aren’t the first group you would think of to be tackling holiday hunger.
Our next step was to uncover how hunger has become such a huge issue that fans of major Premier League football clubs Liverpool, Everton and Newcastle United have mobilised to help tackle it.
Merseyside’s Fans Supporting Foodbanks collects one tonne of food per matchday at Anfield or Goodison Park, while at St James’ Park NUFC Fans Foodbank take in £2,000 of food per match.
But they have to change how they operate when the football season takes the summer off just as the demand for foodbank supplies goes into overdrive.
There are currently around 1,450 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.
We stayed in the North East the week after as we spoke to South Shields MP and Feeding Britain co-founder Emma Lewell-Buck.
The Labour MP said: “Ultimately the level of destitution in this country is a direct result of austerity, including cruel and punitive welfare reform. And quite frankly – if you look at it closely – the rollout of Universal Credit was never intended to do anything other than put hardship on to those who could least afford it.”
Our quest for evidence headed north of the border in mid-August as Edinburgh mother-of-three Kate* told of the strain she had been under throughout the summer school holidays.
We're featured in the @BigIssue magazine this week, talking about our partnership with @UniteCommNfk tackling #HolidayHunger in Norwich. Why not pick up a copy from your local vendor and check it out? #AHandUpNotAHandOut pic.twitter.com/sQDRkgsL59
— Norwich FoodHub (@NorwichFoodHub) August 30, 2019
“All your energy goes into stretching your budget from hour to hour for seven weeks,” she said. “You can’t help but think you must be a bad parent. It really affects your mental health, and theirs. It’s the worst guilt you can get.”
We returned to academia to hear how holiday hunger leaves children feeling isolated and lonely as they are forced to miss out on activities with friends. Cardiff University’s Dr Kelly Morgan also told us how mental health was reaching “crisis point” as a result.
All your energy goes into stretching your budget from hour to hour for seven weeks
And last week we heard how a no-deal Brexit could even prolong the hunger in term time, with school dinners under threat. School meals provider Bidfood’s chief executive Andrew Selley warned of a return to “a menu based on the 1700s” if imports take a hit.
And importantly, we have been asking those who are making a difference locally to get in touch so we can give them a platform – whether they are breakfast clubs in North East England, a Scottish charity or a Welsh organisation providing food education.