Children go hungry in holidays, say MPs
Taking up the cross: the Bishop of Kensington, the Rt Revd Graham Tomlin, serves food to visitors of a homeless centre in Kensington, last weekCredit: Max Colson
Taking up the cross: the Bishop of Kensington, the Rt Revd Graham Tomlin, serves food to visitors of a homeless centre in Kensington, last week
THREE million children are at risk of hunger during school-holiday periods, states a report published on Tuesday by a cross-party group of MPs and peers.
The report, Hungry Holidays, published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty, says that children regularly go without meals in the school holidays, while others must survive on a diet of cheap, poor-quality food. The absence of free school meals means that, at the end of the holidays, children return to school hungry and intellectually behind other children.
The group received written evidence from different institutions and individuals, and from two panels of expert witnesses who gave evidence in the House of Commons last month.
The report contains evidence that children become “sluggish” during the school holidays, and are not taking part in activities because they are malnourished. One child became ill owing to a diet consisting mainly of crisps; and another group of children had to drop out of a football tournament because they had not eaten for days before the event.
Families in poverty are unable to replace the regularity of school meals, and are turning to foodbanks in large numbers, or living off food scraps, flavoured water, and cereal.
Community groups and churches are now trying to tackle the holiday-hunger problem by providing food, activities, and support. For a typical cost of about £1.50 per day, holiday meal-clubs supply food, teach children to make healthier eating choices, and help isolated parents team up with people in similar circumstances.
The parliamentary report says that the health, happiness, and quality of life of children who attend holiday clubs is improved, leading to more productivity and better behaviour.
The group argues that the Government must act, since the problem is too big for community groups to tackle alone. It also suggests that local authorities should receive funding of £100,000 directly from the sugar tax, which will be introduced in April next year, to work alongside churches, schools, and parents.
Frank Field MP, who chairs the group, said: “The evidence presented in this report is staggering. It shows us that not only are there children in this country who are exposed to hunger when they are not at school, but also that this exposure risks damaging their prospects of gaining a good education and living a healthy life.”
Universal Credit linked to foodbanks. FOODBANK use is higher in areas where the Universal Credit has been introduced, a report published on Tuesday by the Trussell Trust suggests.
The report, Early Warnings: Universal Credit and foodbanks, is based on a “quantitative comparison of foodbank use in areas of the Universal Credit rollout”, a survey of 74 members of the Trussell Trust network, and interviews with foodbank managers.
The report says that, in areas where the Universal Credit has already been introduced, there has been a 16.85-per-cent average increase in referrals for emergency food. The national increase has been 6.64 per cent.
The report says that reducing the wait for a first payment — typically six weeks — would “make a significant difference to people’s ability to cope with no income”.
Universal Credit was introduced in 2013 to make the benefits system “fairer and simpler”, the Government said. Half a million are now on it; all will be by 2022.
A Work and Pensions spokeswoman said that it was “impossible” to make a link between the Universal Credit and foodbank use. She said that the Trussell Trust survey was based on responses from foodbank managers rather than people who used foodbanks, and so made it “an anecdotal response” based solely on observations.