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Sat, 4 April 2020

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Ministers told to ditch welfare freeze to stop kids relying on foodbanks during summer holidays

Ministers told to ditch welfare freeze to stop kids relying on foodbanks during summer holidays
3 min read

Ministers are being urged to stop families being “pulled into poverty” over the summer holidays, as a top foodbank charity revealed a spike in requests for help during the school break.

A new report by the the Trussell Trust reveals that the charity handed out 204,525 three-day food packages in July and August last year, with 74,011 of those going to children.

That was up from the 70,510 parcels given out to kids during May and June, and the charity is pointing the finger at the “extra financial pressure” faced by families who normally rely on free school meals during term time.

A report by MPs on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger last year estimated that the lengthy stint without free school meals could add up to £40 to each family’s spending on a single child.

Trussell Trust operations chief Samantha Stapley called on ministers to shake up the welfare system to avoid families relying on foodbanks as “a long term to solution to hunger”.

The group says the Government should end the freeze on child benefits and make changes to the Universal Credit scheme to allow families receiving welfare support to keep more of their earnings.

Ms Stapley said: “There are changes we can make as a nation to help during the holidays, but if we are to protect each other from hunger whatever the time of year, we have to go further than that.

“We know particular groups of people are most likely to need a foodbank, so let’s make sure no one is swept into destitution.

“Our benefits system can, and must, act as an anchor to protect people from being pulled into poverty.”

That call was backed by Work and Pensions Committee chair Frank Field, who said the report’s findings were “more grim evidence of how near so many children are to destitution”.

The senior Labour MP said: “Following the campaign that a cross-party group of MPs and peers ran on this matter, the Government is financing projects throughout the summer holiday that provide free hot meals and fun activities for children.

“Hopefully, on the basis of those projects proving to be both popular and effective in preventing children losing educational attainment in the school holidays, we will be able to move towards a national programme.

“In areas where such projects have already been active, the need for food banks among families has fallen and children have returned to school healthier and better prepared to learn.”

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood meanwhile branded it a “scandal” that families were “having to rely on foodbanks to stave off hunger”.

The frontbencher added: "Child poverty in the UK shows no sign of slow down; over four million children are growing up in poverty and that number is set to rise sharply over this Parliament as a direct result of government policies.

"The Government needs to take stock of the impact that its social security policies are having on the health and wellbeing of children.”

But a Government spokesperson said ministers were “committed to supporting families to improve their lives” and said employment remained “the best route to achieve that”.

“We recently announced a £2 million fund for organisations to support disadvantaged families during the school holidays, which can include providing healthy meals.

“Meanwhile we have a record employment rate, household incomes have never been higher and there are 300,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty than in 2010.

“Our welfare reforms offer parents tailored support to move into work, ensuring that even more families can enjoy the opportunities and benefits that work can bring.”

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