Blog: Tackling Holiday Hunger

Published: 19 Jan 2018

Author: Lindsay Graham
Blog: Tackling Holiday Hunger

On 19th January, the School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill, which seeks to address the issue of hunger during holidays among children entitled to free school meals, receives its second reading in the House of Commons. Below, Lindsay Graham talks about her Fellowship researching responses to this issue in the USA, and her role in the creation of the Bill.

After almost 30 years in public health and school food policy, my interest in the social injustice of hunger as a child poverty issue was sparked by a conversation with a visitor from the USA about their government funded ‘summer meals’ programme. Since that moment in 2012, I have been passionate about finding a solution to the challenge of school holiday child food insecurity, more commonly referred to as ‘Holiday Hunger’. Hunger in the school holidays is a longstanding issue, as the graph below from 1907 illustrates, and one that in the UK lacks clear policy and resourcing.

Durham University graph

In 2013 I applied for and was awarded a Churchill Fellowship. The journey in 2014 to nine different USA states that followed has changed my life and, more importantly, is I hope changing the lives of others.

Influencing change, particularly on a large scale, is no easy task; it takes time, effort and focus. You need to be equipped with good evidence and that means data and stories. The connections I have been privileged to be involved with over the last three years means that we have some of the UK’s first research data on the impact of Holiday Hunger on learning loss. In 2017 a national mapping by Northumbria University found some 837 different projects in the UK.

Over the last four years I have utilised my Fellowship findings and recommendations for providing holiday meals and enrichment in a concerted campaigning and lobbying effort. This has included writing to and meeting ministers, speaking at conference and seminars in all four regions of the UK, and appearing in the media. I chaired a national task force which developed voluntary UK guidance and now training. I have given evidence to a government inquiry and supported the development of a School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill, which gets its second reading in parliament on Friday 19th January.

There is much yet to do to alleviate child poverty and its root causes here in the UK but it is the community projects that continue to provide meals and activities in a dignified way for hundreds of thousands of children and young people that will eventually bring about true change. Whatever the outcome of the Holiday Provision Bill I am in awe of their efforts.

School holiday meals provider noticeboard

Above: a noticeboard at a school holiday meals provider

In 1943 Churchill said “Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have” and providing dignified access to good food is a basic human right for all citizens. That is why we should all be protecting children’s right to food 365 days of the year, which is the mission of End Hunger UK, a coalition of national charities, faith groups, frontline organisations, academics and individuals.

Update: following the Bill's second reading in the House of Commons on 19th January, Nadhim Zahawi, the Children’s Minister, told MPs that, although the government would not support the Bill's proposal to place a duty on local authorities to provide free meals during school holidays, the government would immediately begin conducting research into government intervention to prevent holiday hunger, with funding available for pilot projects in some areas.

Read Lindsay’s report here