This week a group of leading parliamentarians released, Hungry Holidays, a report on hunger amongst children during school holidays. Their brutal assessment is that three million children are at risk of going without the food and activities they need to thrive during the school holidays.
When I was at university in the 80's, I was a rookie play worker on a holiday scheme Durham's pit villages and the small, run down towns of Spennymoor and Ferryhill. 30 years later, I am still haunted by a seven-year-old girl I met, let's call her Jen.
Jen was an underweight lass in a dirty dress, and had a little brother who clung to her like a limpet, let's call him Alan. They looked like the bewildered kids in pictures of WW2 evacuees. Jen and Alan came to our play scheme every day but kept away from me. I think they didn't expect positive interactions with adults. One morning Jen was different, she was cheerful and made a bee-line for me. With pride and wonderment in her voice, Jen said she had jam on her bread for tea the night before. Some of the other kids laughed.
That summer, Jen and Alan came on our trip to the ice rink. When they didn't turn up for the bus home I went looking for them; I found them both still on the ice. I still remember the concentration on Jen's face as she tried to master ice skating. I assumed Jen hadn't realised the time, but maybe she couldn't tell the time. Whichever was true, ice skating and jam and bread were the best things for that little girl and that little girl was the best thing in her brother's life.
No one had told me I was to call social services if I saw such real poverty, so I bought them chocolate.
In most parts of the country the summer play schemes have gone. And, almost none of the remaining schemes provide lunch. A generation of the poorest children need somewhere to go, something to do, and something to eat. The GLA reckons that 500,000, yes, half a million kids, will have a summer holiday at risk of being without proper food.
In Durham, current estimates have it that over 50% of kids in Spennymoor and Ferryhill, and the pit villages still endure the same hardships as Jen and Alan. Their development is retarded, and they are sad and bewildered. Their parents too are mangled - up by their inability to provide - especially those parents who caught up in the working poverty bind, and 50% of those in poverty are in working households. They work all hours and still struggle to make meagre ends meet. Hungry Holidays reports how parents feel about their situation and how they struggle to manage. For one mum, a summer scheme that provided breakfast was a god send. She could save the price of two boxes of cereals a week. That £3 made all the difference to her weekly spending.
Jen would be about 45-years-old now. The odds are that her she will be a grandmother, and the odds are she will be in poverty. By and large, people don't escape. 70% of people born in poverty will die in poverty.
Hungry Holidays called on government to put up the cash to support councils and community organisations to sort out the holiday hunger problem. It came out just as the parties crossed the Ts and dotted the Is in their manifestos. Such reports stimulate those visceral responses that help keep society civilised. It will be interesting to see which parties pick up the issue.
As the report acknowledged, the Fit and Fed campaign is gathering pace. Fit and Fed provides activity sessions with a meal in the most deprived parts of the UK. We are gearing up for summer and hope to see provision in about 250 places. So far over 7,000 children have benefited from pilots in 75 neighbourhoods. Fit and Fed is led by StreetGames, together with Sported and Ambition. Providers are those excellent community organisations like Sporting Communities in Derby and Hattrick in Newcastle, along with progressive local authorities like Plymouth, Wigan, and Newcastle.Suggest a correction