Rather than a time to kick back and have fun, the six-week school summer holiday can be incredibly challenging for thousands of British families whose children are normally fed at school with a lunchtime meal.
The charity Meals & More estimates that up to 4 million children are at risk of “holiday hunger” as parents have to cover the costs of more food at home, it has been reported.
Approximately 1.1 million children are eligible for and receive free school meals (as of 2018) and an estimated 4.6 million children are living in poverty in 2019, according to the Social Metrics Commission.
Meals & More, a small non-profit based in Kent, runs 149 breakfast and lunch clubs during the school summer holidays. They support 12,000 children in total and say they have seen a 20% increase in demand this year.
Laurence Guinness, chief executive of the Childhood Trust, said the numbers of children thought to be struggling with hunger this summer are “horrifying”.
"We know children are going hungry and yet we are failing to adequately address the problem,” he said. "The fact children in a prosperous country like Britain cannot get enough to eat every day is shocking, and the empty promises made by politicians in this context are obscene."
Guinness told the Mirror that he had met a 15-year-old boy who was bribed by criminal gangs to sell drugs in exchange for food. He added that children as young as 12 routinely scavenge in bins for food in a deprived area of north London.
Guinness also described meeting an 8-year-old boy who said he ate toilet paper to stave off hunger pains.
“It’s hidden Britain and it breaks your heart to see it,” Guinness said in the interview.
The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest network of food banks, regularly puts calls out for extra donations in summer. Last year it published research that indicated a spike in demand during the season.
THREAD: No child should face going hungry but #foodbanks in our network are expecting their busiest summer ever. Last year, there was a 20% increase in the number of children needing emergency food during the school holidays. This isn’t right. But we know #ThisCanChange > pic.twitter.com/ZB9mbvGexZ— The Trussell Trust (@TrussellTrust) July 16, 2019
In July, the Trussell Trust said that demand over the next few weeks could exceed last year’s record of 97,496 food parcels received.
In response to this demand and to a parliamentary report urging action on holiday hunger from two years ago, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is looking into the possibility of universal summer holiday meal provision, the Mirror report said.
Williamson has met with Frank Field, an MP who heads up Feeding Britain — a cross-party group of MPs concerned about food and hunger in the UK.
Field said: “Gavin Williamson has contacted us about developing a scheme where children can have food and fun during the holidays. I will meet him to discuss a universal project.”
The scheme would involve both local authorities and the voluntary sector, Field said.
“Rich children have fun and food during the holidays but this should be something all children have,” he said. “There are parents who cannot afford to feed their children properly because of benefit cuts and low wages."
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said in a statement in response to the story: "We recognise that some families need more support which is why we’re spending £95 billion a year on working age benefits and investing £9 million on summer holiday clubs, providing free activities and healthy meals for disadvantaged children.
“Supporting people into work helps them improve their lives which is why it’s good news that more people are in work than ever before.”