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

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.

On 15 August, The Times Educational Supplement reported a 150% increase in the number of children receiving support from FareShare, the UK’s largest redistribution charity, compared with last year. The poverty that stands between our children and their full potential is still with us. The gaping hole in provision during the school holidays too often remains unfilled. For far too many families, the simple dream of a summer holiday of fun and comfort remains just that. These projects have made a real difference to people’s lives. It is my privilege to share their stories, and my duty to say that there is much more to be done.