Parents 'skipping meals' so children can eat during the holidays

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A new report reveals almost a third of parents on low-incomes have skipped a meal so that their children could eat during the summer holidays.

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Professor Greta Defeyter of Northumbria University led research that contributed to the report

According to Isolation and Hunger: the impact of the school holidays on struggling families, 73 per cent of parents with household incomes of less than £15,000, and 65 per cent with incomes of less than £25,000, struggle to afford food in the holidays.

The report by Kellogg’s, which has been delivered to MPs, is based on a YouGov survey of 580 parents with household incomes of £24,999 or less.

Research by Northumbria University into ‘school holiday hunger’ also fed into the report.

To keep costs down, 14 per cent of the parents surveyed said they served slightly smaller meals to their family, while 3 per cent said the entire family had to skip a meal on at least one occasion.

Almost four in ten (38 per cent) said they had bought cheaper and perhaps less healthy food, and nearly a quarter (24 per cent) prioritised food over paying a household bill.

Survey participants also reported feeling isolated during the summer holidays, due to being unable to afford to go out and entertain their children.

Professor Greta Defeyter, director of healthy living at Northumbria University, said, ‘There has been a 500,000-strong rise in the number of children in poverty, and many families have reacted by serving food laden with salt, fat and sugar because it is perceived as more filling food for the money.

‘We know that food poverty becomes more acute during school holidays. The question is, why help? Well, it’s a basic human right to have access to food for a healthy diet, and we know there’s a clear link between food and academic attainment – particularly in areas of poverty and among primary-age children.

‘We are doing something about it in term time, but what about during the holidays?’

Carmel McConnell, chief executive of Magic Breakfast, which works with schools with disadvantaged pupils to provide free breakfasts, said, ‘We know that many of the children in our partner schools are going home to empty cupboards. Hunger takes summer away from these children and in a rich and caring society that is simply unacceptable. Families cannot find the money to provide all the extra food and childcare needed during the holidays. Teachers tell us that it takes several weeks after the school holiday ends to return children to health and readiness to learn after six weeks of poor diet. This is shocking in the 6th richest economy in the world.

‘We want to see a national integrated holiday hunger programme, to offer the right amount of food and food skills training to children who are at high risk.’

In reaction to the report, Children in Scotland has called for free meals to be available for children outside school term-time.

The charity’s chief executive Jackie Brock said, ‘Last week’s budget targeted further welfare cuts at our poorest families. Scotland has gone a long way to address hunger for young children during term-time, but we now need to focus on how we can support families during holidays when pressures are most intense. 

‘Poorer families will find feeding their children, and finding childcare and holiday activities, very difficult and stressful. We must do more to support them.

‘As well as taking a coordinated and strategic response to poverty and hunger, we need to look to sustainably funded projects at a local authority or community level that can provide meals.’

  • Kellogg’s, which has supported school breakfast clubs for 17 years, launched its Holiday Breakfast Club programme last summer . It has also committed funding to the Mayor's Fund for London to help run ten clubs in London until August 2017.
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