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Holiday hunger: it’s real and must end

December 17th 2018

Last summer, many children across Wales went hungry or filled up on starchy or fatty foods.  With Christmas holidays ahead, Victoria Winckler looks at ‘holiday hunger’ and what can be done about it.

APM8AB School Dinner Time in the Main Hall Albany Road Primary School Roath Cardiff South Wales


Earlier this year, a local social landlord reported that so many children were going hungry over the summer holidays that they used the organisation’s corporate credit card to buy emergency food parcels from Asda.  This Christmas, that same landlord is putting together hampers for hard-up families, containing seasonal essentials such as dried food, fresh veg and a voucher for some meat. So far 70 families have asked for one and are eligible for help.

What’s happening locally is not unique. Not having enough to eat or filling up on stodge is now so common in Wales and the UK that it has a name: holiday hunger.

Alarmed by this very real rise in deep poverty, we began to dig a bit deeper.

We’ve found that families that can just about make ends meet during school term time struggle in the holidays. Losing free breakfasts and free school meals means families have to find money for an extra ten meals per child per week. This is on top of extra costs for heating and holiday activities. At the same time, families often have reduced income, typically cutting hours or shifts at work rather than paying for expensive or non-existent holiday schemes.  It’s hardly surprising that some families face empty cupboards.

There’s been no shortage of responses to holiday hunger.

As well as emergency provision, such as food parcels or hampers, there’s the Welsh Government and local authority School Holiday Enrichment Programme. Providing a mix of physical activity, good food and family engagement, ‘food and fun’ schemes have achieved striking results, with improvement in children’s physical and mental health as well as their diet and learning. But although it’s expanding, it still only reached a fraction of children at risk of holiday hunger. A third of Wales’ local authorities did not participate at all.

There’s also a wide range of community-led schemes, from sandwiches provided by faith groups and the WI to ‘fit and fed’ activities. But these too are patchy, with duplication in some areas and many gaps elsewhere. And some people have asked questions about the quality of these schemes compared with the Welsh Government scheme, e.g. the nutritional quality of food provided by these schemes, and lack of health education or family participation.

The new First Minister has pledged to expand the School Holiday Enrichment Programme, which is a welcome promise. But it’s doubtful whether the Welsh Government has the resources to make provision universal, nor is the school setting of the schemes appealing to all children.

There is no sign of pressure on low-income families falling, and every sign that it number of children without enough to eat is going to rise.

So what is to be done?

While welcoming any effort to provide food to hungry children, we’re keen to address the root causes of the problems. We’re carrying out a small-scale project to develop some practical solutions that go beyond the food bank.For example, Scotland’s Poverty Commission has suggested providing a cash benefit to low-income families in the holidays, on the grounds that if children are poor enough to need a free meal in term time they need help with meal costs in the holidays. This principle is something that could be explored in Wales, even though it would need a different format as benefits aren’t devolved.

The idea of children going hungry in the fifth richest country in the world is outrageous. We want to make sure no child goes hungry, and that the holidays are genuinely fun for everyone.

You can support our campaign by putting your hand up against holiday hunger – already more than 100 hands across Wales are showing that they care so please join them with a gift of £10.

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation


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