Demand for foodbanks set to soar this summer, as children face holiday hunger

Holiday hunger is real and this summer it’s hitting kids harder than ever. To make matters worse, support is a postcode lottery.

Trussell Trust foodbanks gave out 20 per cent more emergency food parcels last summer as holiday hunger began to bite – and experts worry that number will rise this year. The national foodbank charity distributed 87,496 parcels to children while they were off for their school holiday in 2018, dwarfing the number given out in 2017.

While the children are off school in the summer, they miss out on free school meals, leaving parents to provide the extra meal – and when they are already on the breadline it can push them towards foodbanks to feed their kids.

The charity has also warned that foodbanks should not be a long-term solution to hunger and is urging the government to end the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments to ensure that families are not left without the cash to buy essentials.

Experts insist holiday hunger can’t be separated from the spiralling costs of childcare bills that eat into parents’ coffers over the summer. This can cost families up to £828 over six weeks, according to a new study by Coram Family and Childcare’s Holiday Childcare Survey.

The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said: “Foodbanks will do all they can to help families over the summer, with many running holiday clubs to support parents who find that their income simply won’t stretch to meet the extra pressure of missing free school meals or paying for additional childcare during the holidays. But no charity can replace the dignity of having enough money for the basics.”

Professor Greta Defeyter agreed. She was one of the earliest researchers in the UK to investigate the impact of food insecurity on vulnerable families during the school holidays. Now she heads up Northumbria University’s Healthy Living Lab, which was the first to map out the free holiday provision across England and Wales.

Between 2016 and 2017 the researchers saw a rise of more than 100 per cent in the number of clubs and charities trying to help children hit by holiday hunger – which the team concluded was driven by soaring demand.

“Funding worth £9m was provided to 11 areas of England,” Defeyter said. “That’s aiming to feed 50,000 children. But you have to keep in mind that there are three million children facing food insecurity this summer.”

The leading holiday-hunger expert said children are facing a postcode lottery for support. In Newcastle and Gateshead, she explained, there is good funding from the Department for Education for clubs outside of term time. Just down the road in Sunderland or Middlesbrough, there is next to no funding – despite similar levels of deprivation.

“Holiday clubs have provided an immediate response to the need at a local level. That’s an important role because parachuting in from afar doesn’t necessarily always work well,” Defeyter added. “But the government needs to look at the issues contributing to the crisis, like ensuring a decent living wage, or making sure benefits are enough to cover people’s rights to housing, education, health and food.”

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The research also exposed an access issue for poorer families to holiday provision. Many parents who responded to their study said they heard about local clubs through word of mouth, but poverty can limit social networks. That means over time the projects could find themselves serving not children whose families are struggling most with food poverty, but those whose families are already best connected in the local community.

“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.”