Children in UK return to school suffering hunger and deprivation, says charity

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Thousands of children return to school this week in a worse health and development state than when the summer term ended and the holidays began, senior clergy and campaigners warn today.

More than 20 signatories from a wide range of organisations have caled for the government to put an end to 'holiday hunger' in Britain.

In a letter in the Telegraph organised by Church Action on Poverty, they cite first-hand accounts of children returning to school in a worse educational, health and developmental state than when they ended the previous term. The letter argues the Government should safeguard children's nutrition for the full 52 weeks a year, rather than just the 39 weeks in which they are at school.

Signatories included the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, as well as the head of a multi-academy trust, trade union general secretaries and senior directors of several leading food, poverty and faith-based charities.

The letter comes as Frank Field MP prepares on Tuesday this week to table his School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill, which calls on the Government to give all councils the duty and resources to provide food and activities during the school holidays for children who would otherwise go hungry.

Niall Cooper from Church Action on Poverty, said: 'Holiday hunger threatens children across the country, and means the holidays are a time of hardship rather than enjoyment. The breadth of support for Government action is heartening, and we hope MPs from all parties will help to make the new legislation law.'

In the letter, the campaigners say:

As millions of children return to school in England and Wales, we should consider that, for many, the summer holidays will have been very difficult.

The crisis commonly termed 'holiday hunger' is being increasingly reported. In April a report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger suggested that food insecurity threatened as many as three million children during school holidays. However, the true scale of the problem remains unmeasured and unmonitored.

Successive governments and all parties have recognised the importance of free school meals, to assist the poorest families. It remains an area of inequality that such support is provided for only 39 weeks a year, rather than the full 52.

Early research into existing holiday meal and activity programmes has found tangible benefits for children, families and communities. In January, the Welsh government announced its investment in a national 'Food and Fun' holiday programme that combined activities and meals. The UK Government should now follow suit.

The Labour MP Frank Field's forthcoming School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill would place legal obligation on local authorities to ensure the provision of free meals and activities for those children who face going hungry over the summer break. Readers can assist by asking their MPs to back this Bill. Their children and grandchildren should receive equal support, whether they are in Wales or Walsall, London or Leeds.