Fears raised as school children across Portsmouth and beyond face summer holiday hunger

'Holiday hunger' is a problem in the Portsmouth area, say charities and teachers Picture posed by models
'Holiday hunger' is a problem in the Portsmouth area, say charities and teachers Picture posed by models

FOOD bank charities and teaching unions have warned about the grave reality of food provision for Portsmouth’s children over the holiday period.

While many families enjoy their break there is growing evidence that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are having to rely on charitable ‘handouts’ to ensure they get the sustenance they need.  

NEU Vice President and Portsmouth teacher Amanda Martin

NEU Vice President and Portsmouth teacher Amanda Martin

Carly Butler, food bank manager for Portsmouth, believes the problem of ensuring children are fed is exacerbated outside of term time. Data from last summer showed a three-fold increase in the number of children receiving food.

‘The demand for food definitely increases over the holiday,’ she said. ‘Data from last August at Southsea Food Bank showed we were feeding 148 children which would compare to around 50 normally. School pastoral workers reported to us that there was great need and concern among parents as the summer holidays approached that they simply weren’t going to be able to feed their children.

‘Demand definitely increases over holiday periods. In the last 12 months we have distributed 1.19 tonnes of food purely during holidays which is disproportionately much higher than term time.

The increased dependency of children at Portsmouth’s three Trussell Trust Food Banks is reflected by the national picture.

Carly Butler from Portsmouth Food Bank in the food store room in Southsea

Carly Butler from Portsmouth Food Bank in the food store room in Southsea

Data from last year’s summer holidays showed 74,000 food parcels distributed to children - 3,500 more than in May and June combined.

Director of operations, Samantha Stapley, said: ‘No-one should face going hungry this summer and we are doing all we can to help struggling families cover the food essentials.’

Carole Damper, chief executive of the local family support charity The Roberts Centre, said: ‘There are 1.5 million children who receive free school meals. Whatever the government provide for summer food schemes certainly isn’t going to replicate that. During the summer holiday period we provide a breakfast club for children in the families we support and when the majority arrive they have not eaten.’

Breakfast is also an area of concern for Portsmouth Food Bank. 

‘We provide 60kg of cereals to local schools to put on free breakfast clubs. During summer, without this service many children will miss out on this important meal,’ explained Mrs Butler.

Ms Damper believes that even if families don’t turn to charitable support increased food demand over the holidays can result in financial difficulties.

‘I think a big problem is families will get into more debt over the summer holidays as they will be spending money on additional food,’ explained Ms Damper.

‘We see the heartbreaking situation with families where the children are being fed and the parents are having to sacrifice themselves and go without,’ added Mrs Butler.

Phil Rutt, chairman of trustees of Friends of the Homeless, which runs two food banks in Fareham and Gosport, is similarly concerned.

‘I have got no doubt holiday food provision is an issue. One third of the mouths we feed are children and this situation will be heightened in the summer by families not having access to free school meals,’ explained Mr Rutt.

Data taken from the 2018 Schools Census showed there are 3,006 primary school children in Portsmouth, 18.2 per cent of the school population, eligible for free school meals which compares to 13.7 per cent nationally. In secondary schools there are 1583 children, 17.8 per cent, who are similarly dependent compared to 12.4 per cent nationally. With a total of 4,589 children identified as requiring free school meals charitable food providers say this reliance doesn’t cease when the term ends.

The effect of holidays on family budgets is something which has been recognised in a recent survey by the National Education Union. Results showed 59 per cent of teachers confirmed that children in their school had experienced ‘holiday hunger’.

Vice president Amanda Martin, from Portsmouth, said: ‘The problem is huge. I worked during the Easter holidays at the Paulsgrove Holiday Club and we were feeding up to 70 children a day. There are serious issues of children who are literally going starving during the holiday period.’

THE BIGGER PICTURE by education reporter Neil Fatkin – The issue of food deprivation is not confined to holiday periods. At a recent NEU conference headteacher of Medina Primary school, Howard Payne, spoke of his growing concern at the impact of child poverty and food deprivation.

Mr Payne said: ‘I have dealt with a dramatically increasing number of child protection issues relating to child poverty and children not eating enough. During the snow storms I kept our school open because I was really worried about children not getting a hot meal that day.’

A recent union survey stated that 71 per cent of teachers had seen pupils coming into school hungry. NEU vice president Amanda Martin certainly feels the growing burden being placed on schools and teachers is a big concern.

‘I know of teachers in Portsmouth schools who are taking packed lunches and extra food in for pupils. There is a school in the city where teachers donate £10 per month of their salary to ensure that kids can eat,’ explained Ms Martin. 

In a recent Ofsted inspection Portsdown Primary School was praised for its ‘outstanding’ welfare care and the headteacher, Ash Vaghela, spoke of his pride in providing both financial and food support to the local families.

While these actions are undoubtedly commendable and rightly praised it does raise the bigger question as to whether in the fifth largest economy in the world local families and children should be having to rely on charitable donations to eat – and if schools use overstretched budgets to buy food this takes money away from learning resources.

Carole Damper, chief executive of the The Roberts Trust, is concerned about creating a culture of dependency which fails to address the underlying cause. 

‘Whether through schools or food banks all that has happened is the government has transferred the responsibility of feeding a vast number of people onto the rest of the population,’ explained Ms Damper.