As summer holidays draw to an end and children get ready to return to school, it is worth remembering that for some the last few weeks have not been a pleasant break from school work. Certainly, not every parent can afford a holiday away, particularly overseas with the exchange rates we face with a greatly weakened pound. Yet, the more pressing issue is that of hunger.
During term-times, almost nine thousand pupils claim a free school meal in West Sussex, a service offered by the state to ensure that every child is able to get the nutrition they need to grow and develop healthily, with considerable evidence that hunger has a major negative impact upon the ability of children to learn.
Clearly, outside of term-times this isn’t an option, meaning in the South East as a whole around 121,000 children are at risk of going hungry over the summer. In Crawley, at last count only 62% of local Year 6 pupils were of a healthy weight. Research recently released by the Trussell Trust has highlighted the increasing reliance of families on food banks during the holidays, with almost half of food parcels that went to children going to primary school aged children.
A few years ago, as the recession took hold, food banks became the charities which were fashionable to support. While the support food banks receive has decreased over the years since, due to ongoing cuts to social security in the UK and real wages falling as inflation keeps rising, the need for them has not yet declined.
Surely it can’t be right that in Twenty-First Century Britain, children are left to go hungry again? It is clearly wrong that for the vast majority of children, their future is determined by the success of their parents. The solution to this won’t come overnight, but by ensuring that a hard day’s work gets a decent day’s pay, starting with Labour’s pledge to introduce of Real Living Wage of a minimum £10 an hour, we can ensure that every child is at least able to get three full meals a day.
Cllr Peter Lamb
Leader, Crawley Borough Council