Parents skip meals to ensure children are fed in summer holidays, MPs say

'Young people who go hungry during the break start term at disadvantage,' headteachers warn

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 31 July 2019 07:01
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Parents are skipping meals and surviving only on cereal during the school holidays to ensure their children are fed, MPs say.

Frank Field, chair of the work and pensions select committee, said the cross-party group of MPs have heard "profoundly distressing" evidence from families who struggle during the summer holidays.

In a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson and work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, Mr Field has called for urgent action to stop children going hungry during the school break.

“We heard about parents going without meals and surviving on cereal just to make sure their children were fed. We heard about families being plunged into debt, just to get by,” he said.

Childcare costs and the need to buy school uniform, which can cost hundreds of pounds, further “exacerbates” the financial difficulties parents face during the holidays, the MPs found.

The government should extend a pilot scheme which supports children eligible for free school meals during the summer break, the chair of the select committee has urged.

It comes as the committee published a report looking at levels of poverty and destitution in the UK.

The report found that while pensioner poverty has fallen because of policies like the "pensions triple lock", this has largely been at the expense of younger people.

Conversely, the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7 per cent rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates as high as 40 per cent.

Mr Field, an Independent MP, said: "The Government has shown that it can make target-busting savings through devastating, cumulative cuts to the incomes of the poor, by capping and freezing benefits that was begun under the coalition government.

"Likewise, there is now no effective strategy to increase the life chances of poorer children. It has failed to recognise the unacceptably bleak picture emerging as it shreds our social safety net."

It comes after Siobhan Collingwood, head of Morecambe Bay Primary School, in Lancashire, said malnourished children are taking food out of the bins at school because they are so hungry.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We know that often the one proper, nutritious meal a child gets a day is at school. School leaders therefore worry about what happens to the children in their schools during the holidays.

“Children who go hungry during the holiday start the new term at a disadvantage compared to their peers who have enjoyed a more wholesome diet and lots of activity.”

He added: “Holiday hunger is a national problem that the government needs to tackle urgently if they are serious about making the UK a fairer and more equal place to live.”

Ros McNeil, assistant general secretary of the National Education Union, said it was “shameful” that children in the UK are trapped in poverty, adding that pupils going hungry should not be an option.

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“Hunger and lack of nutritious food is an issue for children and young people during the term, but it’s scarier and more distressing during the school holidays,” she added.

A Government spokesperson said: “We’re helping people to improve their lives through work and ensuring those on a low income keep more of what they earn by increasing the National Living Wage and cutting taxes for 32m people.

“There are more people in work than ever before and wages continue to outstrip inflation, but we recognise that some families need more support. That’s why we’re investing £9m in free summer holiday clubs and continuing to spend £95bn a year on working age welfare to support families."

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