Healthy Living Lab is giving evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger’s school holidays inquiry.
Tell us about your research project into families’ experiences of hunger during the school holidays.
Nearly a sixth of children across England receive healthy, free school lunches. However, without this in the holidays, many go hungry – a phenomenon called ‘holiday hunger’.
School holidays are a challenging time for many parents with the costs of additional meals, activities and childcare. Many parents struggle.
In 2016, we gathered data from over 400 organisations across the UK to map holiday provision against areas of need. This showed that holiday clubs were planned, or already taking place, in a range of venues and that while clubs aimed to support a range of needs, providing food, childcare and social activities were the priority.
What are the key findings?
Our research has shown that for some families food is limited and they tend to focus on making sure their children feel full without considering whether the food is healthy.
Holiday clubs help to support families by giving them the chance to have healthy, balanced meals consistently. They also save families’ money by making food at home last longer, reducing the likelihood that families will skip meals. They also reduce social isolation, improve parents’ and children’s life skills, and help reduce ‘summer learning loss’, (where children’s educational skills show a marked decline). We are currently investigating the impact of holiday club attendance on the health and well-being of family members, and parental employment patterns.
What role do holiday clubs play in helping families to cope?
Activity costs, limited outdoor play space and safety concerns alone can limit the number of activities that families have available to them. The recent cuts in local authority spending have only compounded this problem. By providing families with regular activities, holiday clubs help them to stay active and reduce social isolation.
What should the Government be doing to stop children going hungry in the holidays?
An All-Party Parliamentary Group is carrying out an inquiry into the challenges faced by families during the school holidays and how current holiday provision might be increased to support more families.
Our research has shown that holiday clubs are valued. As well as reducing food insecurity, they give families a regular, safe and affordable place to spend time with others locally during the holidays. They can also be used to provide parents and children with key life skills, physical activities and learning. It’s important that policymakers listen to the needs of local communities and address this growing area of concern.
You also have a project with Brakes, the food wholesalers…
We are currently looking at the impact of Brakes’ Holiday Hunger programme, ‘Meals & More’ on health and educational inequalities. We also work with a number of other organisations across the UK, including local authorities, Children North East, North East Child Poverty Commission, faith groups and charities, and advise Government on the subject.
Professor Greta Defeyter is associate pro vice-chancellor, Strategic Planning & Engagement, the Healthy Living Lab, Northumbria University