School meals are essential for many families across the borough, yet somehow the children that benefit from this vital service are forgotten during the holidays.
For some, the summer holidays means beaches, lemonade and carefree days at the park, but for some families, being able to afford enough food is a new anxiety. Year on year, 200,000 children across the UK who are normally eligible for free school meals find themselves without this essential support. 2020 is no exception with increased economic pressures from COVID-19.
The pressure felt across the UK is particularly concentrated at Tower Hamlets. Nearly half of all children in the UK living in poverty are located in Tower Hamlets. This is why programmes like Love Summer, which cater to these children, are critical to ensure no one goes hungry across the borough.
Love Summer started with the aim to solve the issue of holiday hunger, whilst also providing key support to parents during the six week summer holidays. Since 2010, we noticed a trend in the need for support, which was evident over the summer holidays. To put this into perspective, free school meals would cover five meals for one child over the course of one school week. Times that by six for the six weeks of the summer and that is 30 meals per child as an added cost to the parent.
The importance of food for all children was highlighted in the media at the beginning of summer thanks to voices like Marcus Rashford, 22 year old Manchester United footballer. When the Department for Education announced that the free school meal vouchers would not extend through the summer holidays, Rashford spoke up.
In an open letter shared on twitter, he talked about his experience living in poverty and asked the government to reconsider their decision to cancel the food voucher scheme during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government did a u-turn and did not cancel the scheme during term time, however, many families still need to take on this expense once summer holidays begin.
Rashford said: “Parents like mine would rely on kids’ clubs over the Summer break, providing a safe space and at least one meal, whilst they work.” He added, “today, these essential kids’ clubs are not an option during the pandemic.”
Healthy and regular meals give children the best chance at succeeding in school. Children need good food to grow, to concentrate and to have fun. Anxiety around going hungry and hunger itself increases the risk of other health problems. Everyone needs a strong immune system – especially during a pandemic.
This year particularly, with financial pressures almost doubling due to the devastation caused by the pandemic, it was an even bigger challenge for parents to keep their children fed during the summer holidays. Our Love Summer programme provides a variety of advice, support, food, activities and workshops to families in Tower Hamlets. We focus our support on those families which receive free school meals during term time and face financial difficulty in feeding their children during the summer holidays.
During the pandemic, First Love Foundation saw a 900%+* increase in people turning to our service for support. This increased need meant adapting the programme to an online format so it could run safely. We delivered a programme of online workshops with food delivered directly to individual’s homes, as opposed to our usual format face-to-face of activities and meals.
Thank you to everyone who supported this year’s Love Summer 2020. You’ve made the summer holidays much easier for the families we support, and much more enjoyable for the children too!
If you want to help out, then jump over to our donation page. We are still collecting donations to cover costs, plus here’s loads of information about the project and what that means for the parents of Tower Hamlets. Our organisation is funded solely by public support so your donations are what allows us to deliver projects like this to people who need them most.
*compared with figures from last year.