By: Professor Greta Defeyter, Faculty Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Planning & Engagement), Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Northumbria University and Director of Healthy Living.
Being food secure means having access to enough safe, nutritious and varied food to meet dietary needs to live a normal, active and healthy life[i]. Within the UK, 20% of children under the age of 15 live in families where there isn’t enough money to buy food and 10% of children live in severely food insecure households[ii]. For many families on low incomes, school holidays are challenging times when an increase in financial pressures has a more general impact on the quality of children’s lives, as families lack money for entertainment, socialising and educational or developmental activities[iii].
Furthermore, during the school term, free school meals act as a safeguard against hunger for children from low income families, but there is no additional state provision for these children during the school holidays. The term ‘holiday hunger’ has been used to describe the hardship that children and families on low incomes face during the summer break when they do not have access to a free school lunch. However, holiday clubs provide far more than food- they also provide social and cultural activities that are important for child development. Our research has shown that holiday clubs help to alleviate social isolation and summer learning loss, as well as reduce stress within households. “…holiday clubs provide far more than food- they also provide social and cultural activities that are important for child development. Our research has shown that holiday clubs help to alleviate social isolation and summer learning loss, as well as reduce stress within households.”
Over the past few years, the Healthy Living Lab at Northumbria University has undertaken research into holiday clubs providing support to these families. We have had the privilege of working with clubs right across the UK from Scotland to the South of England. We have visited clubs in schools, food banks, church halls and community centres, and spoken to the parents and children attending, many of whom live below or just above the poverty line. Our findings highlight that there is a need for holiday clubs for many low-income families because the school holidays are difficult, especially over the longer summer break[iv], and that if it weren’t for holiday clubs, many low-income families would struggle to eat[v]. Of course, like food banks, holiday clubs do not address the structural causes of holiday hunger. They do however provide an important provision for many families across the summer holidays. “Of course, like food banks, holiday clubs do not address the structural causes of holiday hunger. They do however provide an important provision for many families across the summer holidays.”
Our research mapping the location of holiday clubs illustrates that clubs are more likely to operate in economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and that in just two years there has been a significant increase in the number of clubs delivering holiday provision.
Many holiday clubs are staffed by volunteers, who have given up their summer to make sure that that children have access to nutritious meals when free school meals aren’t available. There is also a good chance there will be activities happening within holiday clubs, and that the children attending are having a great time. Our research shows that holiday clubs not only provide financial support to low income families, through the provision of a free meal, but also provide a social outlet for parents and their children, as well as wider benefits for the community[vi].
Researching this area is challenging as it involves talking to families about sensitive issues such as their food and financial situation. But this work is invaluable as it draws directly on the experiences of parents, children, and holiday club staff ensuring their voices are heard.
The School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill to require local authorities to facilitate the delivery of programmes that provide free meals and activities for children during school holidays will receive its second reading in the House of Commons on Friday 19th January 2018. #HolidayProvisionBill
[i] FAO. (2003). Trade Reforms and Food Security. Rome. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4671e/y4671e00.htm
[ii] Pereira, A. L., Handa, S., & Holmqvist, G. (2017). Prevalence and Correlates of Food Insecurity among Children across the Globe. Florence. Retrieved from https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/IWP_2017_09.pdf
[iii] Gill, O., & Sharma, N. (2004). Food Poverty in the School Holidays. London; Graham, P. L., Crilley, E., Stretesky, P. B., Long, M. A., Palmer, K. J., Steinbock, E., & Defeyter, M. A. (2016). School Holiday Food Provision in the UK: A Qualitative Investigation of Needs, Benefits, and Potential for Development. Frontiers in Public Health, 4(172), 1–8. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2016.00172; Kellogg’s. (2015). Isolation and Hunger: The reality of the school holidays for struggling parents. Manchester.
[iv] Defeyter, M. A., Graham, P. L., & Prince, K. (2015). A Qualitative Evaluation of Holiday Breakfast Clubs in the UK: Views of Adult Attendees, Children, and Staff. Frontiers in Public Health, 3(August). http://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2015.00199
[v] Long, M. A., Stretesky, P. B., Graham, P. L., Palmer, K. J., Steinbock, E., & Defeyter, M. A. (2017). The impact of holiday clubs on household food insecurity – A pilot study. Health and Social Care in the Community2, (September), 1–9. http://doi.org/10.1111/hsc.12507
[vi] Defeyter, M. A., Graham, P. L., & Prince, K. (2015). A Qualitative Evaluation of Holiday Breakfast Clubs.