Over the last decade we have made important inroads to improve the food on offer to our children during the school day, all thanks to Jamie Oliver and then the School Food Plan by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent. Whilst there is a lot of work left to do to ensure the School Food Plan's recommendations are fully implemented, there is still one frontier where there has been a dearth in policy: child holiday hunger.
As Chair of the APPG on School Food, child holiday hunger has been an area I have championed for a number of years now. But, sadly, I have been met with the argument that once the school gates lock for the school holidays, it is none of our business about how a child eats, or doesn't in some cases.
However, recent research by SCHOOLS NorthEast found 14% of children in England rely upon a free school meal during term time, rising to 18% in the North East - making it the free school meal capital of England. Some of those children will still have access to food during the school holidays, but for many of them, there is no shadow of a doubt that they will have little, or no, access to healthy food over the holidays.
Evidence backs this concern when a study by Kelloggs last year found that a third of parents had skipped a meal so that their kids could eat during the holidays and 39% of teachers reporting that pupils in their schools did not get enough food over the school holidays. Families are struggling during the holidays and what is needed now is a plan from the Government to address child holiday hunger.
There is support out there, mainly from community groups, volunteer groups and church groups. A report published by the Holiday Hunger Task Group, a group set up by the APPG on School Food, published a report last November which highlighted best practice across the country and shone a light on the will out there to address the issue of food poverty in our communities.
The action by these groups is admirable and I thank each and every one of them for helping feed and enrich the lives of children this summer. Still, it is deeply shameful that when children are going hungry here in the UK that our Government is continually dragging its feet and failing to do more.
Poverty is not an inevitability in our society and we should never be complacent in addressing the causes of poverty or how we alleviate it. What we need is a plan.
Research will be needed to introduce this plan, however, the evidence is already surfacing with research projects, such as the Healthy Living Lab at Northumbria University and work by the Holiday Hunger Task Group, doing a lot of the ground work and can be picked up by the Government.
Two key things the Government can begin looking at as part of developing this plan would be to create resources and training for providers of holiday provision, and develop policy that supports holiday provision, which includes a meal and enrichment activities. These measures would go some way to helping address child holiday hunger once and for all.
Current government inaction has seen children going hungry this summer, exemplified by the lack of action in the Childhood Obesity Strategy last week to address child holiday hunger. Let's hope under the leadership of Theresa May with her warm rhetoric on leaving nobody behind, that ministers finally pick up their feet and get on with the job of government - to help those most in need - so that next summer we see no child going hungry.
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