How can we win the fight against food insecurity?
5 Jul 2017
The summer break should mean fun, but for many families in Scotland it brings isolation, stress and hunger. Children deserve better, writes Lindsay Graham
Summer 2017 is here and across the UK school holidays are underway. Six weeks with no lessons, no uniform and no homework.
For some, this may sound idyllic, but for others it means six weeks of no warmth, no friendship, no routine and no school meals. In households where money is tight, the school holidays – and particularly the long summer holidays – are a time of dread. School holidays mean increased food, fuel and childcare bills and no spare income to support summer fun or food, which leaves children all over the UK more at risk of hunger.
In the last few years, civil society has done more work to address what is termed ‘Holiday Hunger’. Hundreds of thousands of children are supported by community projects and volunteers funded by a plethora of sources from the commercial, statutory and charity sectors. However, more needs to be done to raise awareness and support communities to keep our children food secure.
In June 2017, Children in Scotland hosted its second food-focused national conference, The role of food in addressing wellbeing and attainment. It was a thought-provoking day with a range of expert speakers all working in food education, research and children’s wellbeing. Topics covered included: waste, cookery, poverty, the curriculum, current policy, children’s rights, and the latest research on ‘Holiday Hunger’. The conference had direct input from children and young people throughout the day.
The Good Food Nation Bill featured heavily in the day’s debate, as did the issue of how we as adults can support and prepare children to place a positive value on food that will stay with them throughout their lives. How can we encourage and channel skills, interests and talent towards Scotland as a food producing nation with world-class products?
We can only do this if there is equality of access to good food all year round. We must ensure that families and children are supported to make the best choices with the resources available, and signpost help for those most in need. That’s why holiday provision projects like Children in Scotland’s Food, Families, Futures initiative are so vital to keep children learning, safe and well fed.
The research from such programmes tell us that, through taking part, families are more food-secure, less financially pressured, and less socially isolated. There are less safeguarding issues, children are more active, and childcare is less of a burden.
So are the kids really alright?
A recent UNICEF report in June told us that in the UK one in five children lives in a food-insecure household. In June 2016 the UN told us that the UK had a lack of comprehensive data on child food insecurity. These findings suggest that the UK has some distance to go if it is to adequately tackle food insecurity.
On 25 April 2017, the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into Holiday Hunger published its Hungry Holidays report. It made six recommendations on funding, policy, monitoring, research, training and resources to government that outline what needs to happen to alleviate the problem.
Child hunger is a symptom of child poverty and we need both upstream and downstream measures to keep our children safe, nourished, happy and achieving.
The good news is that across Scotland and the UK community groups will once again this summer step in to fill the holiday gap with meals, enrichment, fun and care. Let’s hope that 2018, Scotland’s Year of Young People, sees a more robust and measured government approach to this issue. It’s long overdue.