Luke Pollard MP Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport
The summer holidays are fast approaching, with some schools starting theirs imminently. With that comes families who do not know how they will make ends meet for six weeks or longer without the support from school meals. Even with some schemes in place, such as Fit & Fed which is open to people on means tested benefits, there is a huge number of families in the community who may be just shy of being eligible and therefore will not be able to access them. Another issue is the stigma some people feel around asking for support.
Recently, Luke brought together a group of people locally who put their time into helping provide food for struggling communities, in order to discuss the upcoming issue of holiday hunger and what can be done about it.
The group discussed the importance of lobbying for school meals throughout the holidays and other non-benefit based support, as well as trying to look at the root causes of this and what can be done about it.
Food aid providers across the city are working together to try and coordinate their approach, particularly ahead of the summer holidays, and a local project called ARC (Aid Redistribution Centre) aims to provide longer term aid requirements, including hygiene products and school uniforms.
Some schools are working to put together food parcels for those in need and support families wherever they can, with the help of places like CATERed.
Whilst there was poverty before the pandemic, the group agreed that COVID-19 has caused more families to struggle with basic essentials including food, utilities, housing and school uniforms. CATERed state they have over 2000 more families claiming free school meals than this time last year so the need is greater than ever before, but some food aid centres cannot always reach the people they need to, due to the stigma involved preventing them from reaching out.
Another point raised was that the application for free school meals needs to be made easier. The schools also need to support families with this; to push what is available and ensure those eligible have applied.
With the feedback received from the group regarding potential lack of awareness about what is available and some people not feeling comfortable accessing support, the group at the roundtable developed the idea of Holiday Hunger Week – a week of pushing the message that it is ok to seek help and where to get it, prior to the majority of school holidays beginning the following week.
Materials for Holiday Hunger Week are now being gathered and it is due to take place from 19 to 25 July. Look out for media around this and further posts on Luke’s website with more information in due course.
The message Luke wants to get out there is – please don’t struggle alone. There is help available to get your children the support they need throughout the summer holidays.
Thank you to all organisations supporting this and providing food aid across the city – from church halls through to big charities. You are all fantastic.