Concerns have been raised regularly about children who receive free school meals during term time but may not receive adequate meals during the holidays.

Private Member’s Bill

In September 2017, Frank Field presented the School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill 2017-19 to Parliament.  The Bill would have required local authorities in England to facilitate the delivery of programmes that provide free meals and activities for children during school holidays. 

A Library briefing was prepared ahead of the Second Reading debate which provided information on the Bill’s proposals in more detail.

The Bill’s Second Reading debate in the Commons began on 19 January 2018 and was scheduled to continue on 27 April, but did not do so as the Bill was withdrawn by Mr Field following Government commitments on research and pilot programmes.

Ministerial response: research and pilots

The Minister stated during the debate on Mr Field’s Bill that, while the Government would oppose the Bill, it would be conducting research into how to make provision in this area:

Nadhim Zahawi: […] I am, therefore, pleased to confirm today that the Government will launch research, as the right hon. Gentleman has requested, into how best to ensure that more children from disadvantaged families benefit from healthy meals and enrichment activities during the holidays, including through targeted pilots. The programme will include engagement with stakeholders and will enable us to assess the impact of Government intervention.

Where I differ with the right hon. Gentleman is in his belief that primary legislation is required to address the issue. I do not believe that that is the case. Moreover, it would not be sensible to impose a duty on local authorities to deliver such provision until we have more evidence about the scale of the issue, the most effective ways of tackling it, and, of course, the costs and burdens associated with doing so.

The Government therefore oppose this private Member’s Bill. However, as I have already confirmed, the Government will support the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal to investigate the best way to ensure that the most disadvantaged children have access to activities and healthy meals in the school holidays. The research programme will include funding for a targeted pilot programme, as he and I have discussed. That will allow the Government to consider if and how they should intervene in the long term. That programme of work will focus on the best and most cost-effective ways to address the issue, with an emphasis on securing the best possible value for money.

We will ensure that we do that by maximising the use of existing resources and focusing on targeting those areas in greatest need, building on the good work that is already under way in many local communities. However, only once the findings from the evaluation are available will it be possible to reach an informed view about next steps. We will want to consider these findings carefully, ​taking account of value for money. Before we have the evidence, it would not be right for me to make any commitment today to further action, either in terms of introducing a national policy or placing a duty on local authorities to offer such provision along the lines proposed by the right hon. Gentleman’s Bill.

On 28 March 2018, the Government announced £2million for research into ways of supporting disadvantaged families through “healthy meals and enriching activities” during the school holidays through the Holiday Activities and Food Research Fund, focused on:

  • testing the effectiveness of interventions;
  • looking at take-up of provision;
  • identifying the costs involved; and
  • considering whether there are particular areas where this kind of programme would be most effective.

This is initial research to be followed by a targeted pilot programme in the 2019 Easter and summer holidays.  Initial information included directions on how to bid for funding (which was open until 18 April 2018).

More detail on the pilot schemes was announced by the DfE on 27 July 2018. The schemes would provide free meals as well as activities such as football and cooking classes. They would operate “across the country including the North East, Birmingham and London.”

The announcement stated that Ministers would be working with Mr Field and other stakeholders as the pilots progress.

Fair food funding: Scotland

In March 2018, the Scottish Government announced that its £1 million a year Fair Food Transformation Fund was being continued in 2018-19. In addition, a further £1 million over the next two years would fund new activity to support children facing food insecurity, particularly during school holidays.

School Holiday Enrichment Programme: Wales

The School Holiday Enrichment Programme (SHEP) is a school-based scheme in Wales that provides healthy meals, food and nutrition education, physical activity and enrichment sessions to children in areas of social deprivation during the school holidays.

The Welsh Local Government Association began piloting the programme in 2016 and it has since expanded, with the support of the Welsh Government.

*UPDATE 6th November 2018*

On Tuesday 6th November the Department for Education published some statistics on holiday hunger schemes during the school holidays in the summer of 2018:

This short briefing lists the following key findings:

  • The seven [participating] organisations supported the delivery of 279 new and existing holiday clubs, which together had a total of 3,581 sessions.

  • The number of children recorded as attending at least one session was 18,000.

  • The percentage of children attending more than one session was 71%, while the percentage of children attending more than 50% of sessions operated by the club was 24%.

  • Forty-eight percent of attendees were recorded as receiving Free School Meals (FSM), but the true percentage could be higher as 31% of attendees had a recorded FSM status of ‘not stated’ or ‘not known’.

  • Of the 18,000 children recorded as attending, 49% were recorded as primary phase (year 1 to year 6), 20% as secondary phase (year 7 to year 11), 14% as pre-year 1 and 1% in post-16 education (year 12 to year 14). A further 16% did not state or know their school year group.

Press material

Children ‘walking the streets hungry’ in summer holidays, BBC News, 26 August 2018 [A report concerning child hunger during holidays in Wales]

Holiday hunger: 150% rise in pupils in need, TES, 15 August 2018

‘They hadn’t eaten all day’: food banks tackle holiday hunger, The Guardian, 3 August 2018

Help for hungry children set for new high, food banks warn, BBC News, 3 August 2018 [Report on Welsh food banks, based on analysis conducted by the Trussell Trust]

Tackle ‘holiday hunger’ with year-round school meals, TES, 27 July 2018

Holiday hunger projects under way in pilot areas, Nursery World, 27 July 2018

‘Holiday hunger should be the shame of this government and it isn’t’, The Guardian, 25 July 2018

Year-round meals plan to tackle ‘holiday hunger’ of school pupils, BBC News, 16 February 2018 [A report on a scheme implemented by North Lanarkshire Council in Scotland]

Further reading

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