As the school holidays begin, not everyone is looking forward to six weeks of sun and fun. For those living on the breadline, having the kids off school is another meal to cater for. Holiday hunger often results in adults skipping meals or living off cereal so their children have enough to eat while parents try to find the extra £30 to £40 a week to feed them.
The UK government knows this is a problem. In the summer of 2018, they spent £2m to help charities and community groups put on activities alongside food to keep 18,000 kids fed. This summer that funding has increased to £9.1m, with the government promising it will help around 50,000 kids.
But that intervention is a mere drop in the ocean – the reality is that up to 3 million children in the UK suffer from holiday hunger.
Last week the Work and Pensions Committee and the Education Committee held an inquiry into school holiday poverty.
MPs heard testimonies from four mothers – Karen Rotheram, Dawn Taplin, Nichola Salvato and Anne Newbould – as well as from charities Save the Children, Child Poverty Action Group, Coram Family and Childcare, Neo Community and Trussell Trust.
Just a couple of minutes into the inquiry Rotheram said: “As a parent you do eat less because kids are the priority. I’ve had times where I have had less to eat because I want them to eat what they should have in the day.”
That statement was met with total agreement, as was Newbould’s heartbreaking observation: “There’s always cereal, isn’t there?”
The four parents also shared the view that tax credits were far more helpful for budgeting than “awful” Universal Credit, and noted how school uniforms and soaring upfront childcare costs bite into savings.
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Save the Children’s Martha Mackenzie appeared at the inquiry as the charity released new research on childcare, warning that parents are having to find £800 extra to cover the cost of it. Doing that upfront leaves families on Universal Credit waiting a month to be reimbursed while in the meantime they are forced to turn to high-cost loans or give up work to take care of their kids. The resulting belt-tightening inevitably sees food sacrificed to save cash.
Charities, foodbanks and organisations around the UK have spent the last few weeks launching fundraisers, issuing calls for food to stock missing essentials on foodbank shelves and prepping interventions.
#CommunityOrganiser @evestrawbs of North Birkenhead DT supported a group of mums from Birkenhead to share their stories with the enquiry into Holiday Hunger at the House of Lords – one of the mums shared, “I feel 6ft tall as no one that important has ever listened to me before” pic.twitter.com/wklrFAut2K
— Community Organisers (@corganisers) July 4, 2019
Take, for example, how charity Transforming Lives for Good’s Make Lunch programme will be providing holiday lunch clubs in churches. Or how Sainsbury’s Active Kids Holiday Clubs will do the same in schools across the country. Or how grassroots causes like Nourish Foodbank in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge raise cash online to cover the 57 per cent increase in uptake they experience every July and August.
Feeding Britain – set up by a cross-party group of MPs and helmed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby – is the biggest national campaign we have to tackle hunger, through local pilot projects as well as working to push for national policy reforms.
But holiday hunger is largely still being tackled in piecemeal fashion led by organisations big and small from place to place.
The Big Issue says: The rise in holiday hunger is a stain that should shame Britain. It’s an indictment of years of policies that punish those most in need. We at The Big Issue want to do all we can to help fight it. To begin with, we will provide a platform for the wonderful, selfless groups and individuals offering a hand up. So tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will print. We will be the signpost for those in need, a way to celebrate good people. Then, we will set about making sure the groups are not needed in the future, dealing with the core causes of holiday hunger.