Mounting pressure is being put on schools to feed the poorest families in Yorkshire over the summer holidays as cuts to local authority budgets and services begin to bite, according to education leaders.
Headteachers in the region have expressed concerns that children from low-income families who usually have access to breakfast clubs and free school meals will go hungry over the six-week break.
As a result, schools are now opening their doors during the six-week break to ensure pupils are fed a nutritious meal.
This is alongside community organisations, hubs and churches, which are also offering food alongside activities to ensure children don’t go without a meal as poorer families struggle to meet the extra cost over summer.
Dr Doug Martin, from Leeds Beckett University’s Carnegie School of Education, who investigates the complex issues impacting on vulnerable children and families, said: “I have had headteachers say to me ‘these kids rely on us so much during the school term and now we are shut’.
“Schools are having to take on more responsibility due to budget restraints. They are now central to the well-being of children.”
Dr Martin said families are looking for support to tackle their issues while services are vanishing.
He said: “So poor or vulnerable families seek support from our universal services. Hence while the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted consider schools in terms of places of teaching and learning, in our poorer communities they are becoming the safety net and addressing the multiple problems families face as poverty grows.
“When schools close, our poorest families as hit through the lack of what many take for granted, hot meals and support sorting out other issues.”
Last week the Trussell Trust revealed there had been a 16 per cent increase in emergency food parcels for children in Yorkshire last summer.
The Trussell Trust is now urging the public to donate food to their local food bank, as figures show 3,753 food parcels went to children in Yorkshire during the school summer holidays in 2018.
The figures come against a backdrop of soaring food bank use as food banks across the Trussell Trust’s UK-wide network provided a total of 87,496 food parcels to children last summer, a 20 per cent increase on the same period in 2017.
The charity has stressed food banks are not a long-term solution, and more must be done.
The trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said: “If we are to end hunger in Yorkshire, we need to make sure everyone is anchored from being swept into poverty. The Government needs to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living and work is secure, paying the real Living Wage. Every family should have enough money coming in for a decent standard of living. No child should face going hungry in the UK.”
Also urging the Government to take more control of the issue, Dr Martin said it needed to engage with organisations to understand the issues.
He said: “Those on the coalface – school leaders working in poor communities understand the issues. Government needs to listen instead of issuing on off sticky plasters, and come up with sustainable long term strategic solutions that are ‘joined up’.
“Poverty is complex and there are no simple solutions. If they do not act and listen to the experts, we will be back here debating the same shameful situation next summer, but it will be worse than this summer as child poverty continues to rise and our schools continue to fracture under the strain.”