Exploring children's experience of holiday hunger

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sociology & Social Policy

Abstract

Context The 2014 introduction of universal free school meals (FSM) for children aged 4-7 has helped to ensure that our youngest members of society receive at least one hot nutritious meal per day, irrelevant of their family socio-economic status. For children aged 8-16, access to FSM is means-tested (based upon a family's amount of income and savings) and many poor families, whilst in need of support, are not entitled. Whilst FSM children are guaranteed food during the 190 days of school, their plight, along with low-income children can worsen dramatically during the 170 days of school holidays when school meals are not available (Graham 2014). Several reports have detailed parents' dread of the school holidays, especially the summer holidays, when household budgets become stretched and cause higher stress levels and problems with juggling money for childcare, leisure and social activities (APP 2014). 'Holiday hunger' defines children's lack of access to food during non-term time. It is a complicated mix of economic and political factors (JRF 2016) and 3 million children are currently at risk (APPGH 2017). Food banks have reported a spike in demand for emergency aid during the school holidays (APP 2014) as families struggle to make ends meet and in one survey 72% of Local Authority councillors and officers reported holiday hunger as a significant issue in their area (APSE 2015). A food insecure household can have significant consequences for children, both nutritional (reduced quantity and quality of food) and non-nutritional (stress, relationships with parents, maternal depression, feelings of social exclusion) (Fram, Bemal and Frongillo 2015) and food insecure children are reported to feel shame, worry, sadness and physical symptoms such as pain, hunger and tiredness (Fram et al 2011). With regards to the impacts on education, it has been reported that children who do not have reliable access to nutritious food during the summer holidays return to school up to 6 weeks behind where they were before the holidays began (Machin 2016). 4 out of 5 teachers have reported pupils coming into school hungry (Kellogg's 2013) and hunger has been shown to have a significant effect on educational attainment and performance (Belachew et al 2011). 'Learning loss' is most significant in pupils from low socio-economic backgrounds (Machin 2016). Over 800 UK holiday and activity clubs currently provide children and parents with opportunities for socialising and food, which indicates that practitioners are aware of the importance of a more holistic approach to the impacts of holiday hunger (Mann and Defeyter 2017; Graham et al 2016). In 2014 the APP Inquiry into Hunger urged government to extend FSMs during the school holidays at an estimated cost of £130 million (APP 2014) but as yet, government response has been slow. However, in January 2018 Frank Field MP presented the School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill in Parliament and whilst opposed, funding for a pilot programme has been agreed to allow Government to consider if and how they should intervene (HC 2018). The impact of poverty on child subjective well-being has often been neglected in academic studies (Main 2014). This is a timely moment for rigorous academic research which examines from a child's perspective how it feels to live with food insecurity through the school holidays, and the effects it has upon their subjective wellbeing - their own evaluations of their lives. Previous research has shown that parent-reported child food insecurity does not always correlate with that reported by the children themselves (Fram et al 2011); therefore the most accurate picture of a child's experience of food insecurity must come directly from the child.

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000746/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2113216 Studentship ES/P000746/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2022 Maria Jane Mansfield