Law would make sure 3 million children are fed during school holidays
MILLIONS of children at risk of holiday hunger could be helped by a proposed new law requiring councils to provide free meals during the summer break from school.
The School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill, which will be presented in Parliament next week, already has the backing of 114 MPs across the Commons. It would be funded by the new tax on sugary drinks set to be introduced next April.
Labour MP Frank Field claimed that the law, if enacted, would also reduce foodbank use during the summer break, which lasts up to six weeks.
The legislation would give local authorities a legal duty to ensure that free meals and fun activities are provided for youngsters living in poverty who would otherwise go without during that time.
The government should ringfence £41.5 million — 10p in every pound raised by the sugary drinks levy — to enable local authorities to finance the measure, said Mr Field, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on hunger and the work and pensions committee.
He added: “If the Prime Minister were to pick up this Bill and run with it, at nil extra cost to the government, she would tackle overnight one of the great injustices afflicting children in this country: a widening of inequalities at school caused by a lack of food during the holidays.”
Up to three million children are at risk of not getting enough to eat during the school holidays, the parliamentary group on hunger warned earlier this year.
Those children at risk of going hungry over the summer months include two million of those whose working parents are in poverty as well as more than a million of those who receive free school lunches during term time, the Hungry Holidays report estimated.
But the number could be higher because government figures show that 30 per cent of children — nearly four million — across England are living in poverty and their families may not be able to afford adequate food.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner had tabled a written question to the government complaining that the Department for Education had “made no assessment of the number of children who are at risk of experiencing hunger during school summer holidays in 2017.”
She told the Star: “It is appalling that millions of children across the country are at risk of going hungry during school holidays and the Tories have admitted they have no plans to help them.
“Ministers are failing children in poverty, whose numbers are increasing to Dickensian levels thanks to Tory austerity.
The cross-party panel of MPs and peers has heard evidence of some children existing on a diet of crisps and others being unable to take part in a football tournament because “their bodies simply gave up.”
Children who had gone hungry “start the new term several weeks, if not months, intellectually behind their more fortunate peers who have enjoyed a more wholesome diet and lots of activity,” the panel said.