Last week London Assembly Member Fiona Twycross helped End Hunger launch our campaign on holiday hunger at City Hall in London last week. Today she blogs in the work going on to combat holiday hunger in London and why she believes ultimately the state has a role in ending hunger.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty’s recent report highlighted that 3 million children are at risk of holiday hunger. It is shameful that the UK tops a UNICEF league table of children under 15 living in a severely food insecure household. Holiday hunger happens when children entitled to Free School Meals in term time don’t have access to the same meals during the school holidays. This can result in malnutrition, and means those pupils can start the term behind other children. It is unacceptable that this is the reality for our children and the Government needs to urgently address it.
Last week at City Hall, I worked with End Hunger UK to hold a roundtable discussion on holiday hunger. We heard from a range of inspirational campaigners on the issue.
Frank Field MP, who Chairs the APPG on Hunger and Food Poverty, spoke about how there was a need to do more than just analyse the problem, but to take real action. This is why Feeding Britain was set up. Feeding Britain is an independent charity, established by members of the APPG, to help put into practice the recommendations set out in the group’s Feeding Britain reports.
Last summer I visited some of the Mayor’s Fund holiday hunger schemes. I saw first-hand the positive impact these initiatives on the ground are having not just in terms of feeding children, but also by providing a social space and an opportunity to develop their social and cooking skills. Initiatives from foodbanks and community groups are carrying out vital work, and I would urge the Government to look at some of the examples of best practice.
Let’s be clear however, these initiatives are simply a sticking plaster and do not provide a long term solution. There is not currently a responsibility with the state to ensure children do not go hungry in the holidays. This is not the same throughout the world. For example, in the United States there is federal funding to feed children in the holidays. In the UK provision is piecemeal, and is totally reliant on donations, corporate sponsorship and grants.
While most children might look forward to holidays, for some children they associate this time off school with going hungry. Laura Sandys, Chair of the Food Foundation and former MP, told us that head teachers reported children getting upset at the end of term, worried at the prospect of weeks without their free school meal.
Frank Field will be presenting a bill from the back benches, ‘Free school meals (provision in school holidays)’ which would call on the Government to provide funding, and compel Local Authorities to provide food in the school holidays to children. We need people to ensure this is kept on the Government’s agenda. This is the kind of co-ordinated policy response we need from the Government. At the moment the safety net in place is simply not sufficient.
It is clear to me that to truly tackle holiday hunger we need the Government to take responsibility and accept all of our children have a right to be well nourished. The Government needs to officially measure the scale of the problem, so appropriate policy solutions can be found. It then needs to legislate to ensure children are fed 365 days a year. It is shameful that we have children going hungry in 2017, and we must take urgent action to end this. In one of the richest countries in the world, we cannot leave families to be reliant on the kindness of strangers.