‘Act now so children won’t go hungry in holidays’

The Government has been urged to extend support for families to stop children going hungry during the school holidays.
The Government has been urged to extend support for families to stop children going hungry during the school holidays.
Have your say

The Government has been urged to extend support for families to stop children going hungry during the school holidays.

Frank Field, chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said MPs on the panel and the Education Select Committee heard “profoundly distressing” evidence from mothers who spoke of their struggles during the summer break.

Mr Field has written jointly to new Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd to urge them to take immediate action to help families struggling during the six-week break.

The Yorkshire Post revealed on Monday that mounting pressure is being put on schools to feed the poorest families in the region over the summer as cuts to local

authority budgets and services begin to bite.

Mr Field said: “We heard about parents going without meals and surviving on cereal just to make sure their children were fed.

“We heard about families being plunged into debt, just to get by.

“The two committees plan to hear further evidence on this issue in the autumn and in due course produce a report with recommendations for action.

“In the meantime, we would be grateful if you would reflect on what immediate action the Government might take.”

He urged them to extend a pilot scheme that supports children eligible for free school meals during the summer break.

It comes as the committee published a report looking at levels of poverty and destitution in the UK.

The report found that while pensioner poverty has fallen because of policies like the “pensions triple lock”, this had largely been at the expense of younger people.

The MPs heard evidence from the Social Metrics Commission which suggests poverty rates among pension-age adults fell from 20.8 per cent in 2001 to 11.4 per cent in 2017, thanks to successive governments agreeing on the scale and nature of the problem.

Conversely, the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a seven per cent rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022 and various sources predict child poverty rates as high as 40 per cent.

Independent MP Mr Field said: “The Government has shown that it can make target-busting savings through devastating, cumulative cuts to the incomes of the poor, by capping and freezing benefits that was begun under the coalition government.

“Likewise, there is now no effective strategy to increase the life chances of poorer children.

“It has failed to recognise the bleak picture emerging.”

A Government spokesman said: “We’re helping people improve their lives through work and ensuring those on a low income keep more of what they earn by increasing the National Living Wage and cutting taxes for 32m people.

“But we recognise some families need more support. That’s why we’re investing £9m in free summer holiday clubs and continuing to spend £95bn a year on working-age welfare.”

Dickens ‘would see the symptoms’

In response to the rise of poverty levels, Dr Doug Martin, from Leeds Beckett University’s Carnegie School of Education, described how “the perfect storm was approaching and Charles Dickens would recognise the symptoms”.

On Monday Dr Martin accused the Government of using a sticking plaster to cover up a social injustice that is forcing schools to open in the summer holidays to prevent vulnerable children from going hungry.

And now he has backed Frank Field’s comments, claiming young people and vulnerable families have paid the price of the recession.

He said: “The Government tries to stick plasters over the symptoms and does not want to investigate the cause.”