As Alice Cooper once famously sang, school’s out for the summer. For many this means jetting off to sunnier climes or picking up a bucket and spade and heading off to the British seaside. Whether you’re searching out Mickey Mouse in Florida or riding a donkey down Blackpool beach, it’s far too easy to forget that the summer holidays can be a difficult time for some families.
These six weeks of no school can push some lower income families into extreme poverty, with particular nasty effects on the health and wellbeing of children. Whilst many of these children are entitled to free school meals, these are only provided during term-time. Six weeks of summer holiday means finding additional room in the family budget for meals and potentially alternative childcare arrangements. For families already on low incomes, this can mean food poverty or insecurity.
The impact of “holiday hunger” goes far beyond six weeks of hunger. Research has shown that these children return to school in September in a worse educational, health and developmental state than when they left in July. This means that the negative impact of holiday hunger could last not just days and weeks, but years and potentially decades.
Luckily, there are groups in parts of the country which provide free food and activities for children over the summer holiday, addressing the issue of holiday hunger head-on. But these are mostly run by voluntary organisations. I pay tribute to volunteers at the St Mary’s Foodbank in Haughton Green, and other similar groups across Tameside. These organisations do a fantastic job and should be thanked for this, but it is clear to me that vulnerable children shouldn’t have to rely on there being an appropriate charity in their area.
We’re no longer in the Victorian times and children shouldn’t have to rely on the generosity of strangers so that they can have food on the table. Our Government should be making sure that every child – regardless of where they live – is well fed throughout the year. Labour administrations in Wales and London are leading the way on this and I hope that the UK Government follows suit soon.
Of course, this shouldn’t just be about finding a way to feed hungry kids over the summer holiday – although obviously that is absolutely essential. It’s also about addressing the underlying issues that cause food poverty, such as low wages and unfair welfare cuts. It is no accident that there has been a huge increase in both foodbank use and holiday hunger over the past nine years of Conservative (and Liberal Democrat) austerity.
We are one of the richest countries in the world, so let’s banish the scandal of holiday hunger to the past where it belongs.