I beg to move,
That this House
has considered holiday hunger schemes.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and a privilege to have the chance to discuss such an important and timely issue.
Last week, children in the Potteries and across the country were home for half term. It would be nice to be able to use the phrase “enjoying their half term”, and I am sure that for many that was true, but not for all, because among their number there were children who returned to school yesterday hungry. For them the half term was not a week of theme parks and family outings, but of empty days and empty stomachs. That might sound shocking—indeed, it is—in a country as wealthy and as prosperous as ours, but it is all too common, and it is the awful reality of holiday hunger. I raised the issue in the House in my first question as a new Member in 2015, but neither time nor repetition have lessened the impact of the heartbreaking statistics that drove me to act.
Some 31% of children in my constituency are born into poverty. A third of parents across the country skip meals so that their children can eat during the school holidays. More than 1.3 million children on free school meals during term time find that that genuine lifeline is snatched away from them for 14 weeks of every year, with the summer holidays proving to be a potential nightmare. Behind each of those statistics lie the stories of those children: of wasted summers and wanting bodies; of children returning to school malnourished; of weeks spent in hunger and isolation because mum and dad cannot afford time off work or the extra meals that come from six weeks without the security of the classroom. There is no adjustment to the welfare system to compensate for the additional cost of 10 meals per week per child. With the cost of childcare during the school holidays, not to mention new school uniforms and other essentials, too many families are tipped into crisis.
It would be easy to dismiss the need for the schemes, but I have seen and heard the reality, not only from the examples that have been talked about nationally, including by the wonderful Lindsay Graham, but from seeing families who walk for miles to access the schemes in the summer months because they cannot afford the bus fare. I have seen mums queuing for more than an hour before the scheme was due to open so that they would be first in line; children who thought they needed to steal food from the holiday club so that they had something to eat that night; and grandparents at the end of their tether because childcare has fallen on them and they do not know how to stretch their pension to feed their grandchildren, and they do not want to tell their own children that they are struggling financially.
In my constituency, a wonderful scheme was provided by the Salvation Army this summer. We expected 30 children to turn up. The scheme opened at half past eleven. At 10 o’clock there were more than 30 people outside, but there was not enough food. The wonderful Tesco delivered food and its staff came to volunteer. During that one session more than 100 people turned up, which shows the level of demand that we have.
It is not just the heartbreaking stories that should us drive us to act. The impact on the long-term attainment of my wonderful children should be front and centre for the Education Minister. Not only does youth malnutrition impact on long-term health outcomes; it also has a direct impact on young people’s attainment, not least the fact that if young people stop using cutlery or writing implements for weeks at a time, they lose dexterity and muscle memory, which affects them on their return to school. Some of them, especially younger children, will not know how to hold a pen. Research suggests that the children who do not receive appropriate nutrition during the school holidays could return in September more than four weeks behind academically than they were in July, making it much harder for them and their families and for the teachers who have to help them catch up.
This is a very good debate. I do not want to stray from the main issue. In my constituency, there are teachers in schools who step up to the plate in the holidays. They put on special subjects, which they are not paid for, in order to arrange for food, meals and exercise for children who are not taken on holiday.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. We are, at the moment, in the hands of those people who volunteer their time, and who give children access to their buildings and schools. If they did not volunteer those facilities, school provision could cost families up to £15 or £20 a day. My constituents cannot afford that, and I am sure that my hon. Friend’s cannot either.
Against the backdrop that I have described, in the summer of 2017, my local heroines, and the odd hero, set out to pull together people and organisations from across Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove to launch the first comprehensive pilot programme to tackle holiday hunger and deal with school holiday provision in north Staffordshire. At this point, I should make it clear that we all hate the phrase “holiday hunger”. It is misery-inducing and heartbreaking, but it can also be counterproductive, as no parents want to admit, or even accept, that they are struggling to feed their children, so they opt out of programmes. In 2017, therefore, we launched Fit and Fed, our pilot for the extended summer break of 2017, to help to reach low-income families and their children, and provide safe activities, as well as a proper meal, Monday to Friday, for six weeks.
The initiative was driven by the brilliant and formidable Carol Shanahan, whom the Minister has had the pleasure of meeting. My heroine, the managing director of Synectic Solutions, has ensured that we bring together as many people as possible, and she has enlisted the support of charities, volunteers and organisations across my constituency, to turn the pilot into a real project. I am indebted to each and every one of them: Synectic Solutions, the Port Vale Foundation Trust, StreetGames, Swan Bank church, North Staffordshire Allotment Network, Root’n’Fruit, the Salvation Army, City catering public health, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, YMCA North Staffordshire, Engage Communities, the Stoke City Community Trust, Netbiz, Purple Cow—interesting name—and Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank, which all supported the project. If anything shows the importance of all the voluntary groups coming together, it is the list I just read.
I am also thankful for the financial support of the Greggs Foundation, which donated £5,000, and I am grateful to Warburton, Makro, Freshview Foods, JB Oatcakes and High Lane Oatcakes—I am talking about Stoke-on-Trent, after all—all of which supplied food, as well as, of course, to FareShare. As I said, Tesco has been extraordinary. Special thanks must go to it and its team, led locally by the inspirational Rich Evans. They volunteered their time as well as huge quantities of food at very short notice, to ensure that people were well fed. Most of all, I am grateful to the dozens of volunteers who contributed more than 600 hours of their time so that within the pilot, 4,323 meals were dished up to local children and their families. That was in addition to the thousands of meals provided by other amazing voluntary groups, including the Chell Heath mums and the Big Local. The goal of the pilots was not just to make holiday provision for those that really needed it. It was to pull together hard data to work out what delivery systems are most effective, and to begin to develop best practice that can guide similar projects nationwide.
As soon as my hon. Friend mentioned the word “data” I was reminded of the encouraging statement to the House yesterday by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about public health. The one thing he seemed to back away from was the link between poverty and poor health. Does not what my hon. Friend is talking about today exemplify the link between poverty and poor diet, which the Government seem reluctant to make?
In fact, the Government of Canada have done research to demonstrate the cost of poor nutrition to the public purse over a lifetime, in lack of attainment and job prospects. Also, it ends up costing the NHS a lot; if someone starts from a low base and does not get the right nutrition, it costs the public purse even more in the end. To me, the individual families are the most important part of the issue, but there is also a question of how much it ends up costing the general public if we do not get things right. My hon. Friend is right, and I hope that the Department of Health and Social Care will view what I am talking about as part of the prevention agenda within public health.
As for data collection, six different methods of tackling child food poverty and holiday provision were tested in my constituency. Some of the methods involved the direct provision of food alongside sport and craft activities in both primary and secondary school settings. Elsewhere, the direct provision of food and activities were maintained, but the programme was taken out of an educational setting. Instead, Wesley Hall, a modern church in the heart of Sneyd Green, was used. The YMCA facilitated community meals. The whole family could turn up at lunchtime and enjoy a hot meal as part of the scheme. That was an extension of its wonderful monthly community lunch programme—once a month, on a Friday; I highly recommend it. There was even a meals-on-wheels-style scheme, where food was delivered directly and discreetly to the doors of families who could not access any of the schemes easily. Each of the approaches was found to have pros and cons, and it is clear that a broad mix of delivery approaches is necessary to reach as many of the most vulnerable families as possible.
The pilots were to my knowledge the most structured and rigorous attempts to address the challenge of holiday hunger conducted in Staffordshire, certainly—and I suggest, as I am very proud of us, nationwide. However, they were not the only activities taking place in Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove. Across the constituency, local people who had heard what we were trying to achieve got involved and organised their own projects to make sure that the kids in their community were not left behind. My favourite, and the most chaotic, was in Chell Heath in my constituency. Thirteen mums from the local children’s centre came together expecting to look after 25 to 30 children a day. They ended up with more than 100, which was not quite what they were prepared for. When you walked in, it was complete and utter chaos—organised chaos—and a delight to visit. It shows the demand out there for proper holiday provision.
All in all, last summer, more than 10,000 meals were dished up across the constituency. I am so proud of the way local people pulled together to deliver such an enormous project. Together, they touched the lives of hundreds of children who without the projects would have faced a summer of hunger and isolation.
My hon. Friend has been doing brilliant work. We had a pilot scheme in Bristol, and what I found particularly interesting about it, and about the national results, was that children really wanted the fresh fruit. They regarded it as something of a luxury. Also, taking the leftover food home at the end of the day was very important. It shows the level of food poverty in which those children exist.
I could not agree more. One thing that we must look at is how people cook—there could be cooking classes in some of the activity programmes—and also ensuring that there is enough food at the end of the day for the whole family to have a meal that night, if necessary; it is not just about the children participating in the schemes as a secondary consequence of making sure they get wonderful holiday provision.
Many Members have just come back from the church service to commemorate 100 years since the cessation of the first world war. Does my hon. Friend recall, from learning history, that it was only when we started recruiting soldiers for the first world war that the extent of malnutrition in this country’s children as they reached 18 was realised? Nutrition was below the standard of any other country in the Commonwealth. Has my hon. Friend, with her community groups, looked at how good the data is on the effect of poor diet in the holidays on children’s overall health? Are GPs and clinical commissioning groups monitoring that?
That is a fascinating point. There have been more than 100 years of free school meals. One of the things that I find extraordinary about free school meal provision is that we did not think about school holidays. That is because there used to be community provision. Historically, schools were built with the kitchen at the front, so that when they were closed the kitchens were still open. As for the long-term health benefits, one of the great partnerships we had was with the public health team at Stoke-on-Trent City Council. This year and next year, we are working with Keele University, which will help us to assess the long-term impact.
The very best part of the fact that the schemes happened last year is the point that they did not end there. The pilot was not a one-off. Local efforts to tackle holiday provision have grown and grown. This summer, we had 12 holiday clubs operating in my constituency, with many more across the whole of Stoke-on-Trent, under the flag—for those who know Stoke-on-Trent—of Ay Up Duck. I cannot really do the proper accent. The organisation was set up to continue the work of the previous year, to move it on from the stigma that might have been associated with holiday hunger schemes. More than 5,926 meals were dished up by the Ay Up Duck scheme, and 460 parents accessed the food too, which was a significant development on last year. The scheme continued last week with a full programme of activities in half term, and will continue at Christmas, next half term and Easter before we get to next summer. Although Ay Up Duck did not receive direct funding as part of the national pilot, it got support from our local opportunity area. I welcome all support, as the funding provided by the Department for such projects has made a positive impact in supporting civil society to tackle child food poverty in local communities, but I fear it is insufficient, given the scale of the problem.
I have some questions for the Minister—this is his bit. What plans does he have to roll out the funding to every local authority? Our experience suggests that to ensure that schemes are co-ordinated and safe, a central point of contact and support is vital. Can the Minister inform us of his conversations with colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government about establishing a point of contact with each council? One of the challenges for holiday provision schemes is ensuring that they prioritise the right people for support. What conversations has he had to encourage family support workers to engage in such programmes outside term time? Many schools are struggling to find the additional funding to encourage them to work during the holidays.
We all have a responsibility to ensure that we are sharing best practice and not reinventing the wheel. Can the Minister update the Chamber on what he is doing to disseminate best practice? Specifically, what is he doing to ensure that appropriate support is in place to ensure that safeguarding issues are met where all the schemes are being run?
The people who have made these projects happen have demonstrated our potential to effect real change in communities. They provided a lifeline to families in desperate financial situations and to others who just needed a little help, and they delivered a summer of fun, food and learning to children who may otherwise have gone without. Their example deserves to be celebrated and I am delighted that we are doing that here, but as we celebrate the work that is taking place in the Potteries and across the country, we must remain focused on the scale of the challenge. Although programmes to tackle holiday hunger are increasing, so are the number of families struggling to get by.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth on securing this important debate. My constituency is particularly blighted by food poverty. It has four food banks and there are a further six in the rest of the city. My office operates a makeshift food bank, where my staff regularly—in fact, daily—give out food parcels to constituents who have come about another issue such as universal credit, employment and support allowance or working tax credits. Once we start peeling away that onion, we find other issues under the skin, so we regularly give out food parcels.
In summer 2017, I was at a family fun day in my constituency to mark the start of the summer holidays. I received a call from a food bank, which told me that 36 families with children had turned up the day before, so the shelves were completely bare—there was nothing left. It was concerned that that would be a huge problem. I talked to some people, including media people who were at the event, and we put out an appeal, which resulted in a tremendous amount of food being donated to that food bank and others that were experiencing similar.
Reflecting on that, it became evident that the sudden demand for families to visit the food bank had to be due to something, which was obviously the fact that the schools were closed and the children who normally had free school meals could not get them. Families who live hand-to-mouth throughout the year, many of whom work but are on low incomes, become dependent on free school meals to provide their children with at least one hot meal a day.
I have spoken to countless teachers who have said that working families are struggling and that they can tell if the children are hungry. In my experience, I know the children are hungry. If someone has three school-aged children receiving free school meals, they will have to find 90 extra meals over the summer holidays. If the children have free breakfasts too, they will have to find another 90 meals. That is a lot of money and a lot of food to find for parents who are struggling.
For the last two years, my staff and I—they have been absolutely wonderful—have taken it upon ourselves to run our own summer lunch club. In the first year, I begged, stole and borrowed from anyone who cared to give. From bread and cheese to milk, yoghurt and bottles of water, we threw it together. We targeted children who were experiencing free activities, such as free swimming or free play schemes, or who were in community centres that were providing free children’s activities.
We would start at 7 o’clock in the morning, work through until about 9 o’clock, and then go and open the office. On the first day, I remember thinking that if we could feed 500 children in 10 days, we would have achieved something. By 10 o’clock that morning, after we had made the first delivery, I was getting phone calls from people saying, “Is that the sandwich lady?” I did not disillusion them, but said, “Yes, it is. How many do you want?”—I think I am still known as the sandwich lady.
In that first year, we served nearly 6,500 meals. They were primarily sandwiches, although with the resources we got from asking the food bank for food, we were able to provide a limited hot meal service at three centres. This summer, however, we provided 10,000 meals. We were able to convince the staff at Admiral and at Arvato, which is the shared services centre for the Department for Transport, to help.
My hon. Friend will know that, in a previous incarnation, I was a Welsh politician at local council level—my ward abutted your constituency. Such programmes had tremendous support from the massive number of staff at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. The staff were great charity organisers and gave marvellously. Not everyone has a good experience with the DVLA, but the people who worked there were some of the best people helping local charities, and I wonder if that continues.
Order. I remind hon. Members, particularly hon. Members of long standing, to use parliamentary language. If they refer to “you” or “your”, it is me. It is a relaxed debate, but this is not the first time.
I apologise, Mr Stringer.
We have had help from organisations such as Bidfood, which is a huge wholesaler; Boss Brewing, which provided us with a kitchen; the Coastal Housing Group, which provided resources and the delivery service; Dignity Funerals, which is connected to my children’s funeral fund campaign and has donated a huge amount of money; and Morrisons and Warburtons.
I recently met the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, which represents wholesalers up and down the country. It explained the good work that its members do to help to prevent holiday hunger and to provide children with the food they need during the school holidays. One of its members, Brakes, has been part of the “Meals & More” holiday hunger scheme for many years, and recently pledged £100,000 a year for the next five years to aid the initiative. That is a wonderful example of how businesses in communities are helping those communities. When you see a child grabbing a bag containing a cheese sandwich, a yoghurt, a packet of crisps and a bottle of water with enthusiasm and excitement because they are hungry, you cannot fail to be moved. It does not just pull at your heartstrings, but makes you think about how we take things for granted. Many kids do not get sufficient nutrition during the summer holiday. Even more importantly, many do not get basic food to fill their stomachs.
Now to the political bit. I was going to talk about the fact that, this Christmas, I am providing more than 100 food hampers to be delivered to those in need in Swansea. That will be done with the help of many people in my constituency who are giving me the money to work with Morrisons to provide a full Christmas dinner, including a joint and everything else that we take for granted, such as chocolate biscuits and mince pies. For people on low incomes, those things are luxuries to which they can only ever aspire.
Last year, the South Wales Evening Post launched a scheme called “Everyone Deserves a Christmas”, and collected clothing, food donations and everything else we take for granted. That tells us that there is a community spirit. Day in, day out, in times of austerity, people work hard to ensure that people in our communities, and especially children, are looked after. Surely there is more the Government can do to help them. Surely we can find ways to support people. It should not be done on a charitable basis, although nobody who gives to the work we do, and nobody who receives it, considers it to be charity, because it has become a necessity. I urge the Government to do everything they can to ensure children do not go hungry at any time of the year, and especially not when they do not have access to free school meals.
I commend Carolyn Harris on the absolutely amazing work she is doing to ensure her constituents are fed, although it is incredibly sad and frustrating that we have to do that in our society.
Some fantastic work is being done in my constituency, and I would like to draw hon. Members’ attention to a couple of examples. Organisations in my constituency and right across Glasgow have grasped holiday hunger incredibly well. It is important that the help for families is not just a handout. We want to get the biggest take-up of holiday food provision, so it must be free from stigma. It must be community-focused and provided in an inclusive, welcoming environment.
Dalmarnock Primary School in my constituency took the lead with its “Food, Families, Future” scheme over the summer holidays. More than 80% of the children who attend Dalmarnock Primary are in Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation category 1—the lowest category—and 30% have English as an additional language. Many of their parents have no recourse to public funds due to Home Office decisions, so sadly they are also in need of support and food over the summer. The Home Office sometimes does not allow them to work—I am not quite sure where it imagines they will be fed.
The summer project is fantastically well thought out and has had input from partner organisations from all over Glasgow, including Possibilities for Each and Every Kid—PEEK—which is brilliant at doing play work with children and giving them a proper summer to remember. The project did not just provide food for kids, but used the school’s resources to tackle several key poverty-related indicators. It was more of a summer camp than a food bank. In addition to holiday hunger, it addressed social isolation for parents, who often cannot take their children out to different places, and find being stuck in the house on their own all summer isolating and lonely. Being on a tight budget over the summer holidays means that there is limited scope for play and entertainment. Parents face a long period in which they cannot take up work because they have got caring responsibilities. Working is difficult because they have to pay for childcare.
The Dalmarnock Primary School scheme was about more than just free meals. It gave families the chance to support one another, and for children to take part in sports and other activities in a safe, familiar space—they got to go to their own primary school over the summer. Such projects offer a crucial link for families and communities, and build strong support networks so families are more likely to access help that they need in the future and parents are less likely to feel isolated. They build up peer-group friendships, which they might not otherwise have been able to do.
Glasgow City Council has since allocated £2 million for Glasgow children’s summer food programme, hoping that similar projects can be replicated throughout the city. The fund makes awards available to organisations that can feed children over the holiday period, in ways that support their wellbeing and a healthier relationship with food. The Scottish Government have made Scotland the only UK country to have defined statutory targets for tackling child poverty, through the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017. They have allocated £1 million towards the tackling child poverty development plan, which sets out practical assistance for measures to improve food security during the school holidays.
It is important to acknowledge that child poverty cannot be solved by one strategy, one Department or one Government. It is a complex issue and we have to consider the wider context in which any policy is operating.
The hon. Lady is right to say that this is a cross-departmental issue. The other day, the Environmental Audit Committee quizzed four Ministers from four Departments about the sustainable development goal to end hunger, and asked them where responsibility sits within the Government structure for ending hunger. I was extremely alarmed when they all looked blank. They all looked at each other, and nobody knew the answer. It is important that we have a departmental lead —a Minister with responsibly for fulfilling that sustainable development goal.
I absolutely agree. If no Minister is responsible for it, it is easy to pass the buck, ignore it and say, “It’s not my job.” It has to be somebody’s job, but it is nobody’s job. That is an important point.
A point that is often missed in debates about child poverty, hunger and food banks is the cost of infant formula. A report that the all-party parliamentary group on infant feeding and inequalities will launch soon details that the cost of infant formula has increased, but the wages in people’s pockets and healthy start vouchers have not kept pace, so families have to make the impossible choice between feeding themselves or feeding their infants.
The Chancellor said that austerity is ending soon—perhaps, maybe—but it will be a very long time before families in my constituency feel any change. There is no denying that, over the past 10 years, austerity has been a huge underlying driver of child poverty in Scotland and across the UK. The Scottish Government are doing what they can to mitigate the effects of the cuts, but the actions that can be taken are limited. Their analysis shows that, this year, 130,000 more children in Scotland could be pushed into poverty as a result of the UK Government’s welfare cuts. That is approximately the population of Dundee. If the number of children in poverty can fill a whole city, something has gone drastically wrong.
Universal credit has started to be rolled out in my constituency, and will hit the Shettleston jobcentre on
I have always found the idea of independence for Scotland attractive, but I do not want it for its own ends. I want it so we can have a Government that we elect, not a Government that chooses austerity over the future of our children.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank Ruth Smeeth for securing this important debate.
In Scotland, there are approximately 170 non-school days a year when children cannot access free school meals, putting a lot of pressure on low-paid families that rely on them. The absence of a free school meal for children can cost families on low incomes between £30 and £40 per week. The Trussell Trust has warned that food bank use spikes not just in the Christmas period but during the summer. As we have heard, in 2017, 593 organisations running holiday clubs across the UK provided more than 190,000 meals to more than 22,000 school-age children.
As we have a bit of time, I have some stats from the Glasgow South West constituency, where activities like those happening in other hon. Members’ constituencies are taking place. Southside Housing Association delivered its Southside Summer Connections programme this year in Cardonald in the Glasgow South West constituency. The housing association delivered the programme as lead partner, along with Hillington Park parish church. This year’s funding was awarded from the Glasgow children’s summer food programme, which is funded by Glasgow City Council. The housing association based the programme on the model it used in the previous two years, providing a breakfast club with free healthy breakfasts and activities on two days a week over the school summer holidays.
The housing association delivered 12 sessions. A total of 311 individuals—112 adults and 199 children—attended or benefited from the programme. Based on attendance figures, the housing association provided a total of 1,182 healthy breakfast meals. There was an average of 99 participants at each session. The programme cost £4,800 for food and activities, and was backed by 17 volunteers from Hillington Park parish church and the housing association. I thank those 17 volunteers for their remarkable work.
Does the hon. Gentleman think there is a lack of comprehension of what goes on for constituents such as his and mine and those of other hon. Members who have spoken? Is it not the fact that, at the top of our country, there are people from the soft parts of Surrey and from Maidenhead who just do not understand the pressures and the situations that people on low incomes face in the age of austerity?
The hon. Gentleman was referred to earlier as a veteran of Parliament. When I arrived here in 2015, the first thing to hit me—it hit me right between the eyes—was the class differential between some of us on the Opposition Benches and those on the Government Benches. I agree that there seems to be a lack of understanding of what happens in the daily lives of far too many of our constituents as they struggle to navigate their way through life and the social security system. I recommend that he looks at the work of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, of which I am a member—that lack of understanding is evident to us.
Southside Housing Association staff told me that they saw the visible signs of poverty and hunger, and believed that its programme helped people. The housing association also had a back-to-school uniform bank. It alarms me that not only do we have food banks but toy banks, baby banks and school uniform banks are starting to emerge. Some 2,000 items were donated by Glasgow South West constituents in that bank. That is just some of the work the Southside Housing Association managed to do in Cardonald in Glasgow South West. It did similar work in Pollokshields in the constituency of my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss.
As others said, we need to look at the punitive social security reform and austerity measures that lead people into poverty. Tackling poverty and inequality must be Parliament’s key priority. As my hon. Friend mentioned, the UK Government need to follow where the Scottish Government have led on helping children to access food during school holidays. Early intervention will reduce the need for people to rely on holiday hunger schemes and help to reduce the stigma of using such schemes.
The Scottish Government’s tackling child poverty delivery plan helps parents to work more flexibly and increases their incomes by helping them with the cost of uniforms, childcare and the like. The fair food fund aims to ensure that everyone can feed themselves and their families. That fund supports community projects such as Crookston Community Group in my constituency, which offers dignified and sustainable responses to food poverty.
Regularly skipping meals has a massive impact on children’s behaviour, concentration and development. The children’s charity Cash for Kids was granted £150,000 to help community organisations support children during the school holidays with activities and access to meals. That funding is the first of the £1 million that will be allocated over the next two years to tackle food insecurity outside term time, and it is just part of the £1.5 million fair food fund, which supports projects to help people move away from emergency food provision and access healthy, nutritious food through community-based activities and support. A number of Scottish local authorities are planning to provide free meals 365 days a year to children from low-income families—a proposal that was welcomed by the Child Poverty Action Group.
However, we need significant social security reform from the Government to ensure that families and children do not go hungry during school holidays. The pressures of child hunger are exacerbated by the benefit freeze and social security reform—decisions on social security have a direct impact on hunger. The overall benefit cap needs to be raised and the benefit freeze ended so that households are not forced into destitution. With the introduction of universal credit, deduction rates for advances, arrears and overpayments, and all other third-party deductions, need to be reduced.
The Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Frank Field, drafted a Bill, which I supported, that would place a duty on local authorities to ensure that disadvantaged pupils were fed during school breaks. I would like the UK Government to adopt that Bill and that approach, and learn from Scotland and elsewhere.
It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, as it was to serve under your leadership as a young councillor on Manchester City Council. I suspect the love-in will cease there as we approach Manchester derby day on Sunday, given that we support different colours of the city. We will just have to try to get along as best as we can over the next few days.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth on her excellent speech and on securing this timely debate. I will be critical of some Members in a moment, but it was really interesting to hear the passion with which all Members spoke about this issue in their constituencies. I will know my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris for ever more as the sandwich lady, and the hon. Members for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) know exactly what is going on in their constituencies with respect to hunger. Before I came to the Chamber, my parliamentary assistant sent me my monthly digital bulletin to sign off. In it was an appeal for more food for food banks, which are running desperately low as we approach Christmas. That is a worry for many of us in our constituencies.
Hon. Members will be aware that I am not my hon. Friend Mrs Lewell-Buck, who should be answering the debate—she cannot be here, for which she apologises. I pay tribute to her and my right hon. Friend Frank Field for their work on the APPG on hunger. They do not just walk the walk on this issue—they talk the talk. They set up a charity to tackle it after touring constituencies up and down our land.
Let me return to my Scottish colleagues for a second. After Mr Stringer bid for the Olympic games for Manchester and secured the Commonwealth games, I became a huge friend of Glasgow’s. As a director of Manchester velodrome, I supported Glasgow through its bids to build a velodrome and to host the Commonwealth games. However, having changed hue last May, Glasgow City Council is still being forced to implement millions upon millions of pounds of cuts—£53 million of cuts to services in the constituencies of the hon. Members for Glasgow Central and for Glasgow South West—by the Scottish Government. Last year, it cut more than £5 million from education budgets. We begin to see that it is not just central Government who are to blame for this issue—there are other Governments up and down our land who have not walked the walk or talked the talk. I am sorry to have to raise that, but it is the case, and there is sometimes very little scrutiny in this place of what goes on north of the border.
I did not realise that we had any Liberal Democrats in the room. That is the old cry of, “This is the problem and they are to blame for it”, without the Scottish National party’s taking any responsibility, despite its control over lots of levers of power, which is important.
As has been pointed out, more than 3 million children were at risk of hunger during the school holidays this summer because they were not getting their term-time free school meals. That is shameful. At the heart of the debate is the impact of the Government’s eight years of unrelenting and indiscriminate austerity. Universal credit is failing in many of our constituencies, and the urgent question on it the other day was really interesting. There should be preferential options for the poor when we make public policy in our country, and universal credit should have a preferential option for those who are in the poverty of having mental health problems. Its impact on those people causes much stress and tips them over the edge.
More than 4 million children are growing up in poverty. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North made an absolutely fantastic point on inequality, which I see in my constituency and other Members see in theirs. In some schools, 40% of children are not school-ready—they do not know about reciprocity or play or how to hold cutlery or pens, which my hon. Friend mentioned—but in others in my constituency, that figure is up to 80%, and growing, because of the austerity of the last few years.
More than 1 million people now go to food banks, and the situation is predicted to get worse. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that the number of children living in poverty is likely to soar to a record 5.2 million over the next five years. Government Members should hang their heads in shame that families in that situation cannot afford to feed their children in the school holidays.
It is interesting how, in our city, Mr Stringer, schools compete over which of our two great teams runs their holiday club. Schools generally choose the team that provides the most free school meals, because that is what some of our schools desperately need. The football clubs are having to look at this in their summer holiday provision in our cities.
We will certainly look at that. I think that Mr Stringer and I would say that we are excellently served by the community schemes of both great football clubs in our city, as my hon. Friend is in hers.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead and my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields set up Feeding Britain, a charity focused on demonstrating how hunger and its underlying causes can be addressed. The United Nations estimates that more than 8 million people in the UK are food-insecure. At the moment, the Government have no way of measuring that and understanding the scale of the problem. The Food Insecurity Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, is awaiting its Second Reading. It has a simple ask of the Government, calling on them to provide for official statistics on food insecurity. That is supported by more than 20 national organisations and, so far, more than 150 MPs from across the House. The APPG on Hunger, and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have also advocated the measurement of hunger. Will the Minister commit today to supporting the Bill on Second Reading?
The Bill makes a cost-neutral proposal to bring the Living Costs and Food Survey into the 21st century and to enable the Government to fully understand the challenge of food insecurity, which puts more than 3 million children at risk of going hungry in the school holidays. A Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead that sought to enact the recommendations of the APPG’s report on countering hunger among children during school holidays sadly did not progress on Second Reading earlier this year.
However, the Minister stated that the Government would provide funding for research and pilots on holiday provision over the summer. Feeding Britain and the APPG provided information to the Department to help inform that research and pilots. Have we had the promised announcement on the outcomes of that research and the national roll-out?
We had it about four hours in advance of the debate. That is not good enough by any stretch of the imagination, Minister. I am sorry to sound like a schoolteacher, but that is how it is.
When all is said and done, we can launch as many pilots as we want, but the fact is that we live in a society where parents cannot feed their children in the school holidays.
Will the Minister commit to ending the sticking-plaster approach and talking to his Cabinet colleagues about a genuine end to austerity and the introduction of a real living wage of £10 an hour, to ensure that every family has enough to make ends meet and that no child will have to go hungry?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) on securing this important debate. I know that she is passionate about this matter and was instrumental in establishing the Fit and Fed pilot scheme in Stoke-on-Trent in 2017. I will embarrass myself by attempting the accent, but hearing about Ay Up Duck was truly inspiring.
I also thank the many colleagues who have spoken. I think the local paper of Carolyn Harris is already writing the headline, “The Sandwich Lady has DVLA on her hit list”. I have to say that for her, her team and her constituents to have delivered 10,000 meals this summer is truly admirable. Alison Thewliss contributed, and I am grateful for her courtesy in sending me a note to explain why she was slightly delayed in joining the debate. There were also many interventions from Mr Sheerman, who is no longer here. I did not agree with all of them, but some were worth noting, including those on his work in local government.
I reiterate the Government’s commitment to delivering a country that really does work for everyone. For most children, the school holidays should mean fun experiences and a chance to make memories with friends and family. We want to make sure that those opportunities are available to all children, regardless of their background.
Let me first set out what the Government have done on our key priority of tackling poverty and disadvantage. In 2017, we published the “Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families” strategy, which focused on measures to tackle the root causes of poverty and to improve children’s welfare. For most people, work represents the best route out of poverty. Unemployment has not been lower since 1975, and the proportion of workless households is at its lowest since records began.
However, we recognise that there is more to do. One of the Government’s guiding principles is to promote social mobility and to ensure equality of opportunity for every child. My Department plays a leading role in ensuring that a package of support for disadvantaged children is in place to help them reach their full potential.
We recognise the benefits of providing healthy food to disadvantaged children. Through our free school meals policy, more than 1.1 million disadvantaged children currently benefit from a free meal at school. In September 2014, we extended that to include disadvantaged further education students—that has not been raised in the debate, but it was clearly an area that we needed to extend to policy to—and to give free school meals to all children in reception and years 1 and 2 in England’s state-funded schools.
To get the best out of their time at school, children need a healthy breakfast. We have invested up to £26 million from the soft drinks industry levy to support the national school breakfast programme, delivered by Family Action and Magic Breakfast. Through that programme, we will set up or improve more than 1,700 breakfast clubs in the most disadvantaged areas of our country, focusing on our 12 opportunity areas. Last week, I visited St Mary’s Primary School in Battersea, 50% of whose children are on pupil premium, and saw for myself the advantage of a nutritious breakfast and activities, whether we are talking about maths, English or just running around the yard. One bonus, one upside, that the headteacher told me about was that attendance had increased.
I shall now talk about the subject of this debate—the holiday activities and food programme of work that my Department has committed to. I agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North that “holiday hunger” is the wrong title, which is why I prefer to talk about holiday activities and food. Earlier this year, in response to the private Member’s Bill mentioned by Mike Kane and promoted by Frank Field, I announced work to investigate how to support the most disadvantaged children to access free healthy food and enriching activities during the school holidays. The purpose of that is to allow us to gather more evidence about the scale of the issue, the most effective ways of tackling it, and the costs and burdens associated with doing so. As a result, we will be able to make an evidence-based decision about whether and how we should intervene in the longer term.
As part of our 2018 programme of work, my officials have reviewed the available research evidence and engaged with national and local delivery partners. We have learned that the evidence base for the schemes, although still in its infancy, shows that they can have a positive impact on children and their families. We have learned that the most effective forms of provision seem to be those that deliver consistent and easily accessible activities and involve children and parents in the preparation of healthy food. Throughout that programme of work, we have engaged with those on the ground delivering this type of provision, those building the evidence base and those supporting providers. I am referring to people such as Carol Shanahan—she is absolutely brilliant and truly an inspiration and, alongside the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, set up the Stoke-on-Trent pilot in 2017—Lindsay Graham and Professor Greta Defeyter.
Our stakeholders have told us that providers want to work better with other stakeholders to improve targeting and referrals, and link up with other people who could support them, such as food providers. They told us that they want greater co-ordination across the sector to help to raise awareness of provision and to ensure that provision exists where it is most needed, so it is targeted. Providers need support to improve the quality of provision through the introduction of minimum standards, guidance, training and support. I think you will agree, Mr Stringer, that this is enormously powerful stuff.
In March, I announced a £2 million fund to support organisations to deliver healthy food and activities to children in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country during the 2018 summer holidays. We awarded funding to seven organisations, which told us that, with that money, they were able to support about 280 clubs—including three in Stoke-on-Trent—reaching about 18,000 children. The information that we have gathered from the projects—from data on attendance reported by the projects, from visits to a small sample of clubs and from conversations with the organisations that we have funded—has helped us enormously in thinking about how we as a Government can add value in our 2019 programme.
We have today published figures evaluating the performance of the clubs. I am aware that there was some confusion about the number of people helped by the programme. Today’s figures relate to the number of children who have been helped by the scheme. They show that thousands of children—approximately 18,000—have benefited from the programme. In July, a figure of 30,000 was used. However, for one supplier, the figure estimated the number of times that children would be helped by the programme, so it was slightly misleading. I wanted to set the record straight on that.
We will be able to say more about what we have learned from the 2018 projects later this autumn when we announce our plans for the 2019 programme, but for me, the key messages from the projects that we funded this summer have been as follows. First, I want to pay tribute to and thank all the staff and volunteers involved in the clubs for what they achieved with limited time, resources and people. Secondly, there was huge variation in the types of provision on offer. For example, some clubs were open all day, every day over the holidays, but others opened for an hour or two over lunch a couple of days a week; my officials saw clubs in a range of venues that offered a range of activities. Thirdly, we want to preserve that variety and ensure that clubs can operate in a way that responds to the needs of those attending. However, it was clear that there are areas where the sector needs support and where a more strategic and co-ordinated approach could add real value and achieve real efficiencies, and that is what we want to focus on during the 2019 programme.
As an example of where greater support and co-ordination could help, I would like to focus for a while on the food aspect of provision. Many clubs benefited from having the facilities, knowledge, experience and volunteers to be able to prepare and cook delicious, healthy and nutritious food and snacks. Others had arrangements with providers such as Brakes’ Meals & More, which delivered healthy and nutritious food to them, saving them time in the kitchen. However, other clubs were not so lucky. My officials visited clubs with no on-site catering facilities and clubs that relied on food donations through schemes such as FareShare. That meant that it was sometimes harder for them to provide a varied menu of healthy and nutritious meals across the summer holidays. Healthy meals are so important if we are to tackle issues such as childhood obesity, which has been mentioned and which disproportionately affects children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead has just joined us in the Chamber. It is a privilege to have you here, sir. You were namechecked earlier in my remarks.
We intend to do much more next year to support clubs to deliver the healthy and nutritious food that is the key to supporting children’s health and learning, as well as to tackling obesity. Throughout 2018 we have listened and learned and, as a result, for our 2019 programme we are exploring options for establishing a grant fund. I think that this was one of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North. We are looking to establish a grant fund to set up local co-ordinators of free holiday provision for disadvantaged children in a number of local authority areas across the country. Our plans are not yet confirmed, but we envisage that those co-ordinators will fund, support and promote free holiday provision in their area, aiming to ensure that there is enough to meet demand—one of the issues raised by the hon. Lady—to improve its quality, to increase awareness, promotion and targeting and to implement a more efficient and joined-up approach locally.
The hon. Lady also mentioned safeguarding, which I know many groups find challenging. We recognise the importance of safeguarding and are looking at how local co-ordinators can support providers on that, including through the use of minimum standards. We will also look at how we can disseminate best practice after the 2019 programme. As I said, the plans are not yet confirmed and we will look to publish further information about the 2019 programme and invite organisations to bid to become involved later this autumn.
Before concluding, I want to pick up on the point made by the hon. Members for Glasgow Central, for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and for Wythenshawe and Sale East on universal credit. A strong economy is the best route to raising living standards and giving everyone people the opportunity to make the most of their talents and hard work, no matter who they are or where they live. Since 2010, we have supported nearly 3.4 million more people into work. That is more than 1,000 people a day, every day, producing a record rate of employment and, as I mentioned earlier, the lowest unemployment since the 1970s. The introduction of universal credit will mean an extra 200,000 people moving into work, because work will always pay. It will add £8 billion per year to the economy when fully rolled out. The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East mentioned disabled people. Around 1 million disabled households receive an average of around £110 more per month under universal credit.
In conclusion, I again thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North for securing this debate, highlighting this important issue and speaking with pride about the team in her constituency who have delivered above and beyond. We know that the school holidays can be particular pressure points for some families. I think this afternoon’s debate has spanned our approach to tackling disadvantage more generally, as well as some of the specifics about work we have undertaken on support for disadvantaged children during the school holidays.
I am fully committed to taking forward work to explore how we can support disadvantaged children and their families during the school holidays, to complement the Government’s package of support in schools for disadvantaged children. That will ensure that all children have access to healthy food and are engaged and invigorated after the school holidays, so that they are ready for the new term.
I hope that I have left enough time for the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North to wrap up.
I thank everyone for their participation today. I am in awe, as ever, of my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris, who is obviously “the sandwich lady from Swansea East”; I usually call her the queen, but now I will have to rename her.
We have seen from the varied contributions quite how important this issue is and I thank all my colleagues for their contributions, with a special “honourable mention” to my right hon. Friend Frank Field, without whom we would not have got as far as we have.
I am delighted that the Government are now looking at a more strategic approach for delivery. The one caveat, however, which I raise with the Minister, is that of those families that have an income of £15,000 a year, 30% of them go without a meal in the school holidays to ensure that their children can have one. This is a working poor issue as much as it is an issue for those people who live on benefits, and I hope that will be reflected in future schemes.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered holiday hunger schemes.