Ending the scandal of holiday hunger in Scotland

Cropschool dinners

The third sector has led the way in campaigning on children going hungry during the holidays

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27th November 2018 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

More and stronger action is needed to wipe out the scourge of holiday hunger in Scotland.

A report published by a poverty watchdog recommends that an additional cash benefit should be introduced to help Scotland’s poorest families when schools are closed.

The advice from the Poverty and Inequality Commission comes after the Scottish Government asked the independent body to consider the role of local authorities, social enterprise and the third sector in providing after school and holiday care and responding to school holiday food insecurity.

They found that free school meals are, in effect, a benefit which is only available for part of the year and that children are going hungry at other times, families are struggling to cope, or both.

Their report proposes paying a benefit during school holidays which would be, at least, equivalent to the cost of school meals.

Chair of the Poverty and Inequality Commission, Douglas Hamilton, said:  “School holidays make up a quarter of the year, so it is no surprise that they can create significant pressures for Scotland’s poorest families around finances, food, opportunities for play, social isolation and parenting.

“The holidays bring additional costs and challenges to already hard-pressed families, particularly over the six-week summer break and at Christmas. Free school meals are seen as a vital benefit for the rest of the year but are, in effect, withdrawn during school holidays at a time when families face the most financial pressures.

“The commission believes that money is the most dignified way to respond to food insecurity, offering families choice in how to meet their needs. That’s why our report recommends that the Scottish Government introduce an additional cash benefit during school holiday periods in recognition of the additional costs that families face.”

The commission made two further recommendations: the Scottish Government, Cosla and local authorities should work together to take a strategic approach to developing and funding a coordinated package of school holiday support that addresses the full range of pressures faced by families with low incomes.

And holiday club provision, with nutritious and culturally appropriate food as a core element, should be available for all children from low income families.

Charities have stressed the need for urgent action – and have led the way on campaigning on this issue.

Child Poverty Action Group Scotland director John Dickie said: "We know from our work that families face a range of extra pressures and costs during the school holidays around food, childcare and accessing fun and rewarding holidays activities. The result is that for to many children and parents holidays are time of extra stress, rather than of fun new opportunities.

"Lack of an adequate income is the fundamental driver of those additional pressures so it is right that further boosting family incomes has to be at the heart of any approach to supporting families during school holidays, alongside a joined up approach to reducing the costs of childcare and holiday activities.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said it “will give careful consideration to the findings.”