Blog: School holiday hunger

Published: 6 Aug 2018

Author: Lindsay Graham
Blog: School holiday hunger

School holidays are a time that most children look forward to but for low-income families, they can be a time of hardship and social isolation. Household expenditure goes up, but family income does not.

As a result, children eligible for free school meals in term time are at risk of experiencing food insecurity and hunger in the school holidays. That’s 13 weeks of the year without access to a regular decent meal.

Having spent a career in health and food education, six years ago I became interested in the issue of non-term time child hunger. I found there was very little research in this area in the UK, so applied for a Fellowship to explore how the USA was addressing it.

On my Fellowship travels in 2014, I visited 11 summer meals programmes across nine American states. I also met legislators, sat in on a Senate hearing and spoke to children, volunteers, parents and professionals. I learned about the country’s policy and legislation of 40 years’ standing that guarantees meals to children between the ages of two and 18, with funding given to schools and community groups to deliver meals in local areas.

Below: a family lunch at Dalmarnock Primary School, Glasgow

Family lunch

I came to believe that child food insecurity in the school holidays is an issue that urgently needed change through research, funding and policy reform. I also learnt that programmes that provide school holiday meals have the potential to have a wider impact. While the meals are crucial in helping to keep children well nourished, it is the addition of enrichment and family social support through bringing communities together that can impact poverty most.

On returning to the UK, I set about sharing my findings as widely as I could. I was tasked by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on School Food with setting up and chairing a national Holiday Hunger Task Group. In its two-year life, the group held the UK’s first conference on Holiday Hunger, devised national guidance for delivery of holiday meals, mapped the UK’s holiday meal projects for the first time and gave evidence to the cross-party Hungry Holidays Inquiry.

To spread awareness of this issue, I have travelled in excess of 300,000 miles and spoken at over 100 seminars and conferences. I’ve visited the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and UK Parliament, spoken to government ministers and made countless media appearances nationally, locally and internationally.

I am pleased to say that civil society has really grasped this issue and we now have nine universities looking at holiday hunger and seven PhDs in progress. The Welsh Assembly has invested £1.5m in Food and Fun projects run by local authorities, Scottish Government has pledged £1m to help holiday hunger through its Fair Food Fund, and in Northern Ireland over 100 holiday projects have been mapped.

Below: frog spotting at a lunch and activities club in Newcastle

Frog spotting

In 2017, a Cross Party Inquiry into the issue, to which I had given evidence, published its final Hungry Holidays report. Its findings revealed that an estimated three million UK children are at risk of food insecurity in the school holidays.

Earlier this year the School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill was brought to Parliament by Frank Field MP. This led to central Government acknowledging there was a case to “look at how best to ensure that the most disadvantaged pupils have access to activities and healthy meals during the school holidays”. As a result, this summer seven projects are being funded across England at a cost of £2m, to research best practice and inform further pilots in 2019.

The need for community-led enrichment opportunities for children, young people and their families is paramount for helping the most disadvantaged in our society. To tackle child poverty we need to do much more to protect and increase the limited income of struggling families so these projects must also be linked to year-round statutory services support.

It has been a very humbling experience to campaign for change on such an important issue of social justice. It feels as though I have achieved more in the last four years of my life than the previous 40. I cannot claim to have been solely responsible for all the change that has happened, but I would like to think I have played a part.

Three things I know for sure. Firstly, that it was the Churchill Fellowship that enabled me to acquire the evidence, knowledge and confidence I needed to take on such an issue. Secondly, that having this purpose to my life has brought me a great sense of achievement, contentment and joy. Finally, my Fellowship journey isn’t over yet.

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Read Lindsay's report

Lindsay’s Fellowship is supported by The Rank Foundation.

This article was first published in our 2018 newsletter. Read it here