Delivering food support for hungry children over the summer alone 'is not enough', warn charities which delivered Government's holiday clubs trial
The Government has been warned that holiday clubs such as those trialled in Leeds, Bradford, and Sheffield over the summer are not enough to feed hungry children and solve the free schools meals crisis as ministers came under increasing pressure to end the row.
Ministers were today reported to be looking into how holiday clubs could be used to feed hungry youngsters in England in an effort to solve the fiasco which has erupted between the Government and footballer Marcus Rashford.
But organisers of The Holiday Activity and Food Programme, the brainchild of Henry Dimbleby – the Government’s food tsar and co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain - said it will not be enough.
The project was trialled over the summer by 10 co-ordinators across 17 local authorities at a cost of £9m, including Voluntary Action Sheffield and Leeds Community Foundation, which delivered the scheme in both Leeds and Bradford.
And Boris Johnson was reported to be considering giving extra funds to councils to set up the clubs after MPs voted against extending free school meals over the winter, leading to widespread outrage.
But Mr Dimbleby said the Government “isn’t doing enough” and those who delivered the programmes said while successful, they would not be enough alone to tackle the problem.
Maddy Desforges, chief executive at Voluntary Action Sheffield, said: “This is about much more than handouts though, we need to find a way to make sure families can afford to buy food, and we need to work with our communities to make sure that everyone is looked after through these challenging times.”
A statement from the organisation said: "Delivering the activity just over the summer period isn’t enough. We know that families and children will struggle to have enough to eat in each school holiday, and we need to plan for that, especially as we once again enter enhanced Covid restrictions.
"The winter months are cold and dark, and the impact of not having enough food is even greater on families - we need to bring together food and activity, engaging communities to reduce the long-term impact of isolation."
While Kate Hainsworth, chief executive at Leeds Community Foundation, said they had been running a Healthly Holidays scheme for a number of years which focussed on activities, but was supported by providing food.
She said: “The primary focus of the scheme has always been to ensure children have access to enriching holiday activities and experiences. The food element provides basic nutrition which every child deserves.For us, the success of Healthy Holidays has always been about providing more than a meal, so children can be supported in a trusted environment, promoting confidence, social contact and wellbeing, encouraging long term solutions which is so much more than tackling hunger.”
Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Mayor’s Fund for London, which was also involved in the summer pilot, said a mixture of measures is required.
She said: “The holiday provision in itself is a really good way forward, but it’s not going to be the whole answer and it’s particularly tricky for the Christmas period.”
Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News today: “These are incredibly important pilots and we will look at how we can learn from those and how we can build on this.
“The best way to do it – as the Prime Minister quite rightly outlined – is through local government.”
And Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the Government is “absolutely committed” to ensuring vulnerable children do not go hungry.
But he told BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat: “We’ve taken the view that we have provided resources for local authorities to help in a targeted way the most vulnerable children that they need to look after.”
But Mr Dimbleby said: “This problem is real. It should go without saying it’s serious. It’s immediate and it’s going to get worse as employment gets worse and the Government isn’t doing enough.”
A petition started by Mr Rashford for free meals to be extended in England over the school holidays was nearing one million signatures this evening.
Businesses, community groups and councils – including Tory-run administrations – have answered his call and provided thousands of free meals for children as schools in large parts of England began their half term break.