I agree. Hungry Holidays published by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger is a disturbing, even distressing read ‒ the reasons behind holiday hunger, the links with child poverty and the impact on children’s lives…But there are also strong grounds for hope and encouragement, especially if we can all do our bit to raise awareness and make a practical response.
Back to the alarming part: the scale of the problem has been hidden – until now. Even to those of us linked into churches and Foodbanks (Spurgeons hosts some of these in our children’s centres) who are acutely aware of life getting harder for many families that we work with.
We’ve seen the stats for child poverty steadily rising, along with basic living costs like housing, fuel and food. We know that more low income families are struggling, at the same time that less help is available and some of that definitely peaks in school holidays. But sometimes it takes someone like Frank Field MP (with a bit of help!) to pull the evidence together, throw down the gauntlet to government and urge something to be done.
Three million or 1 in 4 children in the UK are affected. That’s a preposterous ratio in the fifth richest country in the world. However you look at it and whoever you blame, it’s really bad news for children ‒ for those who have free school meals and for those in low wage families, where extra costs of childcare and food during school holidays can mean not enough left to put proper meals on the table.
Now for the inspiring bit! The people doing something about it. They’re described in the report as ‘a growing number of compassionate, diligent, and gutsy church volunteers, community groups, local authorities, and businesses’.
I remember speaking to the brilliant charity Make Lunch soon after it started in 2011 and ever since have promoted their work with churches to provide meals and activities in school holidays. They contributed to Hungry Holidays report. Tackling another part of the problem is REfUSE which started up a couple of years ago in Durham, using food destined for landfill to make healthy, delicious meals, as well as giving fantastic volunteering opportunities to learn new skills and help employability.
One national, one local, both motivated by Christian faith, determined to do something practical as a response to poverty and inequality which would bring people together in a positive way. Working with churches, schools and communities to prevent hunger and food waste.
We’re connected to lots of churches and small charities who regularly provide holiday clubs, food and hospitality as a routine part of what they do. They’re just one part of the voluntary and faith sector all doing their bit in local areas, as well as businesses and individuals contributing too.
But if the main recommendation of the report is adopted, to use just 1/10th of money raised from the sugary drinks levy as a grant for each local authority to convene schools, churches, community groups and businesses – with the voluntary sector taking the lead – imagine what might be possible!
Such a commitment to tackle holiday hunger would bring ‘an improvement in the immediate quality of life, as well as the life chances, of large numbers of children growing up in families that are struggling to keep their heads above water’. And that’s exactly what Spurgeons wants for children and families struggling to cope ‒ a better present and more hopeful future.