Last week was half term in North East Lincolnshire a time for our children and young people to spend time with their families, to play with their friends to re-energise themselves ready for the rest of the school term. But, what about those children who have free school meals, what do they do at half term?
More than half of the children claiming free school meals have experienced holiday hunger, which means that some of the most vulnerable children and young people living in North East Lincolnshire will go without a hot meal this half term.
Holiday hunger is a real problem for many families who usually receive free school meals, providing these extra meals for children during school holidays can cause real struggles for many families. At this time of changing benefit payments, the impact of universal credit, major cuts to local authority budgets are having an impact upon the amount of youth work and holiday provision available and there is now a real concern that some families will not be able to meet the needs of feeding their children during school holidays.
There is a real two tier system operating within the school meals system, which puts our most vulnerable at a distinct disadvantage. In most schools catering contractors are paid £1.90 per day to provide a free school meal, if a child on a free school meal does not eat one day the contractor still gets the £1.90. children who pay for their meals are able to ‘save up’ any money they don’t spend one day, but this is not possible for those on free meals, so for example a child cannot use ‘saved up’ money from a missed lunch to pay for a breakfast before they sit an exam.
The cuts local authorities like North East Lincolnshire are being subjected to by the Tory government are really hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest, it’s a crime that in the 21st century food banks are a growth industry and that families are struggling to feed their children during school holidays.
A recent report on Hunger found that children were returning to school after holiday times in a worse educational, health and developmental state than when they left, it was shown that as many as three million children faced the risk of food insecurity during school holidays. It is a statistical truth that children who receive free school meals are more likely to have poorer physical and mental health, have poorer educational aspiration and are more likely to be parents at a young age. So how do we break this cycle?
Proper funding from central government to feed the most vulnerable in our society would help, and by taking responsibility for ensuring that children have access to nutritious food on the 170 days a year when they are not in school, particularly over holiday weeks. It is up to us to lobby our MP’s to keep up the pressure on Government, children going hungry in the 21st century is appalling and the threat of the old childhood diseases caused by malnutrition returning is becoming more of a reality.
The next school holiday is Christmas, so, when you are sitting down to your Turkey with all the trimmings, spare a thought for those children and families who won’t be having a hot meal this Christmas.