A top Yorkshire professor has accused the Government of using a “sticking plaster” to cover up a social injustice which is forcing schools to open their doors in the summer holidays to prevent vulnerable children from going hungry.
With three million children at risk of hunger during the six-week break, the Trussell Trust has warned that food bank use spikes each summer.
And as the latest Government figures reveal there are currently 140,291 children in Yorkshire’s primary and secondary schools who are receiving free school meals, there are fears that many will go without food over the holidays due to low-income families struggling to afford an estimated extra £30 to £40 a week.
Dr Doug Martin, from Leeds Beckett University's Carnegie School of Education, said schools and community groups were becoming the "safety nets" in poorer communities in response to the growing "holiday hunger crisis".
And he urged the Government to listen to listen to "those on the coalface" and come up with a long-term solution.
Dr Martin, who was a former policy writer for the Department for Education, said: "Headteachers are aware when they close for the summer holidays, a vital lifeline for many families is lost.
"This covers the basics of free healthy breakfast, through to a nutritious hot meal provided for younger children free to all families and for older children, where on benefits, a free meal.
"Some schools are now opening during summer in response to the holiday hunger crisis.
"The Department for Education has now recognised this situation and have funded summer activities including a good meal over the summer holidays for 50,000 children. This is just a sticking plaster.
"The Government have overseen the fragmentation of services and the destruction of support services for the most vulnerable. They respond with one off interventions, which may be marginally viewed as treating the symptoms, but in reality are feeble responses to the needs of the poor."
A Government spokesperson said school holidays should be “a chance for children to have fun experiences and make lasting memories – and no child should ever have to go hungry”.
The spokesperson added: “That’s why we applaud community projects and schools that choose to open their doors to children during the summer, and why we are investing £9m in free summer holiday clubs this year. Alongside this we are spending £95bn on working age benefits in 2019/20.
“These clubs will reach around 50,000 of the most disadvantaged children across the country and ensure children get a nutritious meal. They will also offer children the chance to socialise with friends, take part in sports and activities, and stay involved in their communities throughout the break from school.”