Theresa May, Make This The Last Summer Holiday In Which Children Go Hungry
We’re almost at the end of the six-week holiday. Most children by now will have had lots of fun over the summer with their friends and family. They will also have all sorts of stories and memories to share with their classmates on their first day back.
But there is a reverse face to the summer holiday: three million children in this country are likely to have been hungry, either on a couple of occasions, or persistently, over the past few weeks.
In many of these cases, that hunger will have become much more ominous a threat with each passing week, with parents gradually reaching their wit’s end trying to stretch the family budget further and further.
Why does hunger pose such a potent threat to some children in the holidays? The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger has uncovered three main reasons.
First, poorer children who usually receive free school meals during term time are deprived of this lifeline, as well as free breakfasts in some cases, once the school bells herald in the holidays.
Then there is the barrage of extra costs - childcare, activities, and even additional water, gas, and electricity - which, combined with the loss of free school meals, grind down poorer families over the holidays.
A third phenomenon is the sheer difficulty some parents have in being able to cook, shop, and cope in general on a limited budget. There are also some parents who couldn’t care less if their children have eaten a decent meal that day, but there numbers are, thank goodness, very few.
The natural reaction to date of a growing number of citizens concerned by the plight of hungry children, has largely been to help churches and community groups provide free meals and fun activities - although when one little girl turned up at one of our brilliant Feeding Birkenhead projects, she was so hungry that she didn’t mind missing out on the fun, as long as she could just eat something.
But those projects themselves often live a precarious existence - scraping by from one holiday, to the next - and, despite more and more projects joining the frontline, too many poorer children remain outside their protection and vulnerable to the onslaught of hunger.
One of the APPG’s most disturbing findings was that those poorer children who are hungry in the holidays return to school a further month intellectually behind their more fortunate classmates for whom food and activities are in no shortage. Here we have one social evil, hunger, directly impacting upon another, the widening of inequalities at school.
So I will be issuing a simple rallying cry to the Prime Minister when Parliament returns next week: let us make this the last summer holiday ever in which children in this country are hungry.
The rallying cry, in this instance, takes the form of a bill which would give every local authority the necessary duties and resources to provide free meals and fun for children who would otherwise go without during the holidays. Key Tory backbenchers are keen for 10p in every pound raised by the sugary drinks levy to cover the costs of this programme.
If the Prime Minister were to pick up this bill and run with it, she would, at nil extra cost to the Government, revolutionise poorer children’s life chances. Crucially she would also be cutting one of the main supply routes to food banks. Clearly it’s all to play for.