Holiday Hunger Schemes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:15 pm on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North 3:15 pm, 6th November 2018

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.