Up to three million UK children risk hunger over school holidays

David Hughes
Parliamentarians heard evidence of children existing on a diet of crisps and hungry youngsters unable to take part in a football tournament because 'their bodies simply gave up'

Up to three million children risk going hungry during the school holidays, a cross-party panel of MPs and peers has warned.

The Government should use £100,000 raised from the tax on sugary drinks to help councils support schemes aimed at feeding hungry children when school canteens are shut, the group said.

The parliamentarians heard evidence of children existing on a diet of crisps and hungry youngsters unable to take part in a football tournament because "their bodies simply gave up".

The all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on hunger said Whitehall should place a duty on councils to work with schools, churches, community groups and businesses to tackle the issue.

The report said those at risk of being hungry over the summer include more than a million children who receive free school meals during term time, and two million more with working parents who are still in poverty.

It noted that an increased number of families relied on food banks during the school holidays and suggested there are "particular difficulties that arise at those times of the year which restrict families' abilities to afford food".

Senior Labour MP Frank Field, the APPG's chairman, said the Government "has now had time to take on board the fact that under its stewardship of the fifth richest country in the world, too many children are stalked by hunger".

The group's report found a "deeply troubling" impact on children who had gone hungry over the holidays and returned to class "malnourished, sluggish and dreary".

The APPG said the evidence it had received indicated that those children "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 report said: "There can be no escape from the reality that in 2017, children in different parts of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are arriving back at school hungry and totally unprepared to learn after the holidays.

"We have learnt of one young person who vomited during the holidays because their diet consisted exclusively of packets of crisps.

"Elsewhere, a group of children taking part in a holiday football tournament had to drop out of the latter stages of the competition, as they had not eaten a meal in the days leading up to the event. Their bodies simply gave up on them."

Mr Field said: "The evidence presented in this report is staggering. It shows us that not only are there children in this country who are exposed to hunger when they are not at school, but also that this exposure risks damaging their prospects of gaining a good education and living a healthy life.

"People of goodwill in a number of communities are showing how holiday hunger can be overcome. They are transforming children's and parents' lives for the better.

"It is from this collective strength of churches, community groups, businesses, schools and public bodies that a national effort to eliminate holiday hunger can, and must, be initiated.'

"Abolishing hunger during school holidays is beyond the ability of individual community groups and volunteers alone.

"It needs, above all, a government lead in giving local authorities duties to convene churches, community groups, businesses, schools and public bodies in their area; and allocating a top slice of the sugary drinks levy to fund each local authority with a £100,000 grant to abolish school holiday hunger."

Press Association

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