The moment seems right to insist that we stop holiday hunger for good. Every child should have sufficient nutritious food to eat, every day. Schools play a vital part in ensuring that this happens during term time with the funding provided to them for free school meals. However, during school holidays there is no long term funding commitment and our poorest children are going hungry and poorly nourished.
During the Easter and May half term holidays, due to the pressure brought by many organisations and individuals, the Government provided a voucher scheme giving £15 per child/week to help disadvantaged families buy the necessary food. This was a first and a welcomed U-turn. Similarly, the Government has decided that the voucher scheme will be funded this summer. The impact of COVID-19 is likely to see far more families, with children and young people, needing this support. It is a start but providing sufficient nutritious food for our poorest children and young people can’t be a one-off event.
We now need to implement a national scheme for full year provision of a daily nutritious free meal for our most vulnerable children and young people. To cover the school holiday period, the additional cost, for each eligible child and young person, would be two hundred pounds per annum. This is based on 13 weeks of school holidays x £15 plus £5 Christmas bonus at Christmas, most likely to be need for electricity or gas. The total cost of the programme would currently be £250 million per annum. With the current stresses on the economy and rising unemployment, it is highly likely the need will be greater in the short term. The cost of doing nothing will be much, much greater in the long term.
Schools will need to make arrangements for the vouchers for this summer but in time the monies could be paid directly to families as part of the benefits system. Good nutrition positively influences many areas of life: health, education and emotional well-being. It’s a relatively small investment for long term advantage. It’s morally right.
The State has long accepted the responsibility for providing a free lunch to children and young people from disadvantaged homes during term time. This is merely an extension to full year provision. It is needed now more than ever.
Please write to your local Member of Parliament, add some of the information above to your school’s website or newsletter to parents and publicise #FSMPlus200 with local papers and colleagues. Together we can make a difference. A draft letter may be found below. Please feel free to use it or adapt it as suits.