Gavin Williamson urged to stop pupils from going hungry

MPs say ministers must extend support to families to end holiday hunger over the summer

John Roberts

The education secretary has been urged to take action to stop holiday hunger.

Ministers have been urged to provide immediate support to disadvantaged families to prevent children from going hungry during this summer's school holidays.

Frank Field, the chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, has written jointly to new education secretary Gavin Williamson and work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd to urge them to take action.

His call came as a new report from the committee warned that government reforms were pushing “some people not only into poverty, but into hunger and destitution”.

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The committee’s report on poverty in the UK found that the “welfare safety net” was not fit for purpose for people living on the breadline. 

Mr Field said MPs on his committee and the education select committee had heard "profoundly distressing" evidence from mothers who spoke of their struggles during the summer holidays.

In his letter to ministers, 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 Work and Pensions and Education select committees are due to produce a separate joint report on holiday hunger later this year.

Headteachers have also called on the government to take action to stop children going hungry while they are out of school. 

NAHT headteachers’ union general secretary Paul Whiteman said: “A recent NAHT poll showed that 81 per cent of school leaders have seen an increase in the number of children coming to school hungry in the last five years.

"We know that often the one proper, nutritious meal a child gets a day is at school. School leaders therefore worry about what happens to the children in their schools during the holidays.

“Children who go hungry during the holiday start the new term at a disadvantage compared to their peers who have enjoyed a more wholesome diet and lots of activity.

"Schools are taking action where they can, but holiday hunger is a national problem that the government needs to tackle urgently if they are serious about making the UK a fairer and more equal place to live.”

Tes revealed earlier this year that some schools had created their own food banks to feed pupils who were arriving for lessons hungry.

Today, Mr Field urged ministers to extend a pilot scheme that supports children eligible for free school meals during the summer break.

As part of his committee's new report into poverty in the UK, MPs visited the Charles Dickens School in Southwark, London, to understand more about how families and teachers were managing the day-to-day impact of poverty and hardship. 

Teachers who shared their views urged the government to do more to support parents to get back into work, including extending the availability of nursery places. 

They also highlighted concerns about the cost of school uniforms.

MP Emma Hardy launched a campaign this month for schools to use unbranded uniforms, in a bid to reduce the costs faced by disadvantaged parents.

A government spokesman said: "We're helping people to 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 32 million people.

"There are more people in work than ever before and wages continue to outstrip inflation, but we recognise that some families need more support.

"That's why we're investing  £9 million in free summer holiday clubs and continuing to spend £95 billion a year on working-age welfare to support families."

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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