Action is needed to tackle rising levels of ‘holiday hunger’ amongst children. Michael Alexander reports.
It’s that time of year when long school summer holidays can either mean endless carefree days of playing down the park – or leave parents with a sense of child care dread.
But for many children in Scotland, another reality of the summer break is that they risk going hungry, according to Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson.
The issue was highlighted on Tuesday when Mr Adamson visited the Dundee Food bank on Constitution Street to highlight how, for low income families, who usually rely on free school meals, the holidays can be a difficult time.
Food banks in Scotland’s major cities are already under great pressure to supply enough food, he said, and the impact of the school holidays is worsening the situation.
The Trussell Trust report that over a third of people depending on food banks are children and that this peaks during holiday periods.
Now Mr Adamson is calling on the UK and Scottish Governments to gather accurate data to properly understand the scale of the problem and the number of children affected, so that they can put “effective solutions” in place that take account of children and young people’s views.
The “failure” to understand the scale of food insecurity was recently highlighted in a Unicef report which said one in five UK children face the problem.
Mr Adamson said: “No child should be going hungry in the holidays. Children have a right to be free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. Experiencing food insecurity as a child impacts negatively on physical health, mental health, and developmental outcomes and is a violation of their rights.”
Dundee Food bank manager Ken Linton said that since April 1, emergency three-day food parcels had been issued to 1352 adults in Dundee and 542 children.
He was not, however, aware of a rise in demand for the city’s food bank parcels during the holidays.
That, he said, was largely down to the success of the Fun and Food Programme – set up by former Dundee City Council chief executive David Dorward – in a bid to tackle ‘holiday hunger’ in children across the city.
Dundee Food bank has provided cereal boxes to the scheme, while the generosity of Dundonians in support of food banks continues, adding: “In an ideal world our doors would be closed.”
The Commissioner described the Dundee summer holiday meals scheme as one of several “excellent” projects across Scotland, including the Dalmarnock and Ibrox primary school summer clubs initiative which recently expanded to 26 schools across Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire.
However, the Commissioner added: “While these schemes provide a vital safety net, we need to see holiday hunger within the broader context of poverty and food insecurity. The issue is not just about food. Holiday hunger and child poverty is a significant children’s rights issue in Scotland.
“A sustained, systematic and human rights based approach at national and local level is needed to address and eradicate it.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “No child should be going hungry and tackling poverty and inequality is a key priority for this government.
“Local authorities have the flexibility to provide meals to children out with term time and some chose to use this flexibility during school holidays by providing holiday lunch clubs.
“In addition, we have already invested over £350 million in welfare mitigation measures, in addition to our £1 million Fair Food Fund which supports projects which promote dignity and harness the social potential of food to connect people and develop sustainable solutions to food poverty.
“The independent short life working group on food poverty recommended in its report published June 2016, that greater measurement of food insecurity was required.
“The Scottish Government has therefore taken steps to better measure the full range of food insecurity in Scotland.
“Three questions on food insecurity in Scotland will be included in the Scottish Health Survey 2017.
“Thereafter, the full United Nations food insecurity question set will be included in the SHS from 2018 onwards.
“This will allow internationally comparable baseline data on food insecurity in Scotland to be available in 2019 with further data sets available annually thereafter.”
A DWP spokesperson said:“The best way to raise living standards is to help people into work, and across the UK there are record numbers of people in employment.
“We are also helping millions of households meet the everyday cost of living and keep more of what they earn.
“We continue to spend over £90bn a year supporting people who are out of work, disabled or a carer, bringing up a family or on a low income.
“Budgeting advice and benefit advances are also available for anyone who needs more help.”