Theresa May urged to back school holidays bill to prevent child hunger

The Prime Minister will be asked to provide free meals outside of term time after evidence emerged of children falling behind with their school work because they have become malnourished during the holidays.

Labour MP Frank Field, who will present the School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill to Parliament on Friday, said: “A little over a century has passed since MPs first began pushing for child hunger to be eliminated during school holidays. Yet today there are three million children in this country who are at risk of going hungry when the schools are closed.”

He said MPs had presented evidence to Parliament showing that the physical condition of children who received free school meals during term time “rapidly deteriorated” during the holidays when those meals were not available.

“Today we have fresh evidence on the impact of this evil on children’s development. Those who are hungry or malnourished during the holidays fall several weeks, if not months, further behind other children in respect of their ability to learn and focus in the classroom.

“Kids who haven’t eaten well during the holidays return to school sluggish, dreary, and unable to apply themselves fully to their work or physical activities. ‘Holiday hunger’, as it’s called, isn’t just hurting children’s bodies, it is also damaging their minds and with it their chances of doing well at school.”

Mr Field said that while a “small number of parents couldn’t care less whether their children are fed properly during the holidays”, there were “many, many others who, despite pulling out all the stops, simply can’t afford to put a decent meal on the table every day when the schools are closed”.

These families were increasingly turning to food banks, he added. He is calling for a scheme he set up in his constituency to be rolled out across the UK.

Set up in 2014, the Feeding Birkenhead scheme organises free meals and activities for children in the poorest parts of town during the holidays and so far 2,000 children have been fed.

The scheme relies on volunteers helping out and local supermarkets and other businesses donating food that would otherwise have gone to waste.

Mr Field believes the scheme could be funded by using some of the money raised by the sugar tax which is being imposed on fizzy drinks.

The Bill has the cross-party support of 131 MPs including Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservatives’ backbench 1922 committee.

Mr Field added: “MPs from all parties, including a decent contingent of Tories, are backing the Bill which seeks to extend Feeding Birkenhead’s success to the whole country, at no extra cost to the taxpayer. The Prime Minister has the power to eliminate hunger amongst children in school holidays.”

The Soft Drinks Levy takes effect this April, adding up to 8p to the price of fizzy drinks.

The Treasury expects it to raise £300million a year.

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