Hunger schemes ‘stop children losing weight’ during school holidays, councillors hear

Schemes to feed children during the school holidays need to continue to avoid children returning in September having “lost weight” through a lack of nutrition, a senior Leeds city councillor has said.

Tuesday, 26th November 2019, 6:00 am

Coun Fiona Venner, Leeds City Council’s executive member for children and families, added that the authority had a “moral” responsibility to ensure that children receiving free school meals weren’t going hungry during half term and summer breaks.

The comments came during a council executive board meeting, during which she spoke about projects to combat “holiday hunger” suffered by children on free school meals, and how Leeds can combat this as part of the city’s child poverty strategy.

She said: “We have 33,500 children in Leeds living in poverty.

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Holiday hunger programmes need to continue, councillors heard.

“I visited some of those projects over the summer. It is marketed as fun free activities for children with a hot meal. We hope the outcome of that is that children haven’t lost weight over the summer and are ready to learn.

“Children not having food is a moral issue, even if we can’t demonstrate results, it is morally wrong that children go hungry and we will continue to deliver the holiday hunger programme.”

A report from Leeds City Council officers claims the percentage of children who live in poverty is increasing, adding that in 2016, one fifth of young people in Leeds lived in poverty.

It stated that the council’s “Healthy Holidays” programme reached 5,441 different children this year, and was held at more than 50 venues.

The report added: “The food provided throughout the Healthy Holidays programme has helped to alleviate holiday hunger, which is an increasing problem our city is facing.”

Coun Venner said: “It’s not only the impact, it’s the shame people feel. Children are articulate in how it feels to be ashamed of your home and your life.

“Poverty is not the wallpaper in the background. It affects every area of your life.”

The council report claims the authority’s child poverty strategy aims to “mitigate” the impact of poverty on the life chances and achievement of children and young people in the city.

Leeds council’s Conservative group leader Andrew Carter welcomed the work, but added that councillors needed regular evidence to see how the strategy was working.

It was then agreed that councillors would receive reports every three months on the strategy’s impact.

A council officer added: “We will look at students’ attainment. We will be able to report back with those students. Each programme we will have something that is quantifiable.”

On the work done in preparing the strategy, Liberal Democrats group leader Coun Stewart Golton said: “The frustration is the amount of time it takes to translate the child’s view into demonstrable action, and then making sure it delivers what it should do in the first place.”

“There seems to be a lot of talking to academics and finding a “Leeds” response to a problem.”

The authority’s head of children’s services Steve Walker said: “We have a strong track record of the initiatives we do put together.

“The way in which we approached childhood obesity, for example, was very unique. The outcome is evident.

“Given the insidious nature of poverty, to have an approach that’s both targeted and universal, to have a programme that doesn’t mean ‘you are one of the poor kids because you access this’ – we need to deliver this in a way without the stigma.

“One of the most insidious things about poverty is the stigma it brings.”