MPs call for new law to tackle holiday hunger among pupils

Labour politician Frank Field appeals for money from the sugary drinks levy to be used to fund council provision of free meals

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A proposed new law requiring local authorities to ensure that free meals are provided for children who would otherwise go hungry during school holidays will be presented by a senior Labour MP to Parliament on its return next week.

The School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill already has the backing of 114 MPs from across the Commons, including Frank Field, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hunger and is also the chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee.

Mr Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, argued that the law change, if enacted, would "tackle overnight one of the great injustices afflicting children in this country: a widening of inequalities at school caused by a lack of food during the holidays".

The bill would place a legal duty upon local authorities to ensure that free meals and fun activities are provided for youngsters who would otherwise go without during the holidays.

Mr Field is calling on the government to ring-fence £41.5 million, 10p in every pound raised by the sugary drinks levy, to enable local authorities to finance the measure.

He said: "If the prime minister were to pick up this bill and run with it, at nil extra cost to the government, she would tackle overnight one of the great injustices afflicting children in this country: a widening of inequalities at school caused by a lack of food during the holidays. Likewise, she would immediately be cutting off one of the main supply routes to food banks."

Research this summer raised concerns that holiday hunger creates a learning lag for pupils affected.

Children 'living off crisps'

Earlier this year, the APPG on hunger warned that up to 3 million children risked going hungry during the school holidays and said Whitehall should place a duty on councils to work with schools, churches, community groups and businesses to tackle the issue.

The cross-party panel of MPs and peers heard evidence of children existing on a diet of crisps, and hungry youngsters unable to take part in a football tournament because "their bodies simply gave up".

The Hungry Holidays report said those at risk of being hungry over the summer included more than a million children who received free school meals during term time, and two million more with working parents who were still in poverty.

It noted that an increased number of families relied on food banks during the school holidays, and suggested there were "particular difficulties that arise at those times of the year which restrict families' abilities to afford food".

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