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British children are starving during school holidays

3 min read

Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth, calls for the Government to tackle child food poverty during school holidays

Our children are going hungry. That is the reality laid bare by recent reports detailing the rising issue of holiday hunger here in the UK.

In my own constituency of Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove, 31% of children are living in poverty. The looming cuts to tax credits are only going to make things worse - figures from Unison show 5,600 families in my constituency alone will be hit. 

Many parents are already struggling to provide for their children during the school holidays. A recent report by Kellogg’s on isolation and hunger in the school holidays found that one third of parents have skipped a meal so that their kids could eat during the school holidays. 73% of households on incomes less than £15,000 said that they aren’t always able to afford to buy food outside of term time. For millions of families living on the breadline, the holidays are nothing to look forward to.

This situation is broadly understood during term time, and has been for years. Free school meals, breakfast and after school clubs are all recognition of the difficulties which parents on low incomes face. Yet the Government has to date displayed a chronic blind spot when considering what happens to these families when school is out.

I’m not prepared to sit back and do nothing while children in my constituency starve. That’s why I’m using my adjournment debate this week to call on the Government to take action. There is no quick fix to holiday hunger, but there are practical steps that we can take to begin to address the problem.

Firstly, we need further research into the impact that holiday hunger and a lack of additional provision is having on our poorest and most vulnerable children. In particular we need to improve our understanding of how malnutrition and isolation leads to learning loss and academic backsliding in our young people.

We also need the Government to engage with groups such as the holiday hunger task force who are at the cutting edge of this research to date. Despite clear evidence that children have been returning to school after the summer holiday malnourished, the Department of Education has so far been reluctant to engage on the issue. 

Finally we need the Government to support projects aiming to tackle holiday hunger by providing innovation funding for local organisations to deliver programmes in their area and to develop best practice. In the US, holiday hunger is recognised as a national issue and federally funded - we cannot feed our children on good will alone. 

As James Baldwin once said, “These are all our children, we will profit by or pay for what they become.” We need to invest in our young people now if we are going to ensure a brighter future for them and for the country.

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