Each year around 3 million children – of whom 1 million receive free school meals – are at risk of “holiday hunger”. These families’ budgets have difficulty stretching to meet the added costs of having children at home full time. In many ways, this year will look very different – but the pressures on families will remain and in some ways be magnified.
The problem of holiday hunger has grown over the past decade and churches have responded by providing children’s clubs, lunch clubs and other activities to help relieve some of that pressure. This year, local churches are finding that the projects they ran may not be possible in a socially distanced world. But some are also finding new and creative ways to serve this same need.
Covid 19 and Holiday Hunger
In March, as soon as the lockdown was ordered, the number of families needing support from Trussell Trust foodbanks increased by 89%. Other foodbanks and local charities reported similar rises in demand. This huge increase in need has persisted with foodbanks giving out record amounts each month.
Ministers and local charities have told us that families with children are particularly badly affected. The number of children being fed by foodbanks more than doubled during the lockdown, with an increase of 122%. Families’ outgoings increased because of home-schooling and not being able shop around for cheap food. This, combined with the fact that low income families were most likely to see a fall in their wages or even lose their jobs altogether, has created a recipe for spiralling need.
As schools break-up for summer, the children who would normally be at risk of holiday hunger may well already have needed help from a foodbank. The holidays will add a little more pressure to an already difficult situation.
Increasing numbers of families at risk of Holiday Hunger
Many new families who would have had a hunger-free holiday period are facing large drops in income because of Covid 19. Families with low incomes continue to be most at risk of wage cuts or unemployment, and currently over 75,000 people a week are moving onto the benefit Universal Credit.
Universal Credit should be the main protection from hunger for these families. However the benefit has many flaws, the first of which is that a family that applies at the start of the school holidays cannot expect any help until 5-weeks later – at the end of the holidays. They are likely to be forced into debt to make ends meet, and Trussell Trust tells us that this is a major cause of families needing their foodbanks.
Free school meals are important, but not enough
Marcus Rashford’s brilliant campaign – drawing on his experience of growing up in a family that needed to use foodbanks – has ensured that free school meal vouchers will continue over the summer. That will help a sizable minority of those at risk of holiday hunger. But sadly, it comes nowhere near to solving the problem.
What practical ways can churches and Christians help?
This year feels very different, but families who face holiday hunger will need caring neighbours and churches as much as ever.
As Christians, we have the dual calling of supporting families that find themselves in need and to call for the changes needed from government and others to prevent families reaching the point of ever needing a foodbank.
- If your church is supporting families this summer by running a food club or a children’s activity, we would love to hear from you and share the story. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you are thinking about a project and wondering if it is still needed this year – IT IS!
- If you feel you cannot safely run a project, you could support local foodbanks who are likely under enormous pressure at the moment. You may know one in your area, if not Trussell Trust or the Independent Food Aid Network can help you find one
We want to live in a society where no family needs to approach a foodbank. Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children have looked at what could make a real difference in anchoring families and allowing them to avoid crisis point. Their research indicated that raising the benefits given to children in low income families by £20 a week during the crisis would provide that anchor.