Going hungry in the school holidays is a growing problem for up to three million UK children, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger warns. Too many children return to school malnourished, sluggish and dreary, says the report. They are often weeks or months intellectually behind their better-off classmates who have a more wholesome diet during the holidays
According to the report, children at risk of holiday hunger include an estimated:
One million growing up in poverty who receive free school meals during term time
Two million whose parents are on low wages but do not qualify for free school meals
For both groups, school holidays place extra burdens on family budgets in terms of food, fuel, activities and childcare. It claims the loss of free school meals adds between £30 and £40 per week to parents' outgoings for one child. Parents working on zero-hours contracts were said to be particularly vulnerable to the higher costs of childcare.
In the "fifth richest country in the world, too many children are stalked by hunger," said committee chairman Frank Field in his foreword, describing the evidence as "staggering". he said "abolishing hunger during school holidays is beyond the ability of individual community groups and volunteers alone".
Dr Philippa Whitford, a vice chair of the group, said that losing access to free school meals during the holidays could "simply be the final straw which overwhelms some families' ability to keep their children fed and, particularly, nourished. Hidden hunger does not just result in underweight children... those who are eating a stodgy low-protein diet, with no fresh fruit or vegetables, can end up both obese and yet malnourished," she said.