Holiday Hunger Schemes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:48 pm on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 3:48 pm, 6th November 2018

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.