Schools are ‘ideal places’ to provide holiday meals for poorer pupils

Labour MP Frank Field

The government is under pressure to guarantee free meals for poorer children during the school holidays, and school facilities are expected to be in demand under proposed new laws.

A draft law to force councils to provide the meals already has the support of more than 110 cross-party MPs, and will be introduced by the Labour MP Frank Field when parliament returns from the summer recess.

The all-parliamentary group on hunger recently warned that three million children risk going hungry in the school holidays.

Schools are the ideal places because of their facilities, kitchens, dining halls and playgrounds

Existing schemes often involve schools, and education facilities are expected to be in additional demand if the new law passes.

Health policy adviser Lindsay Graham told Schools Week that schools are the “ideal places” to provide holiday meals.

“A lot of the projects I have seen at schools are led by school catering, sporting volunteers, play workers, classroom assistants, youth workers, dietitians, parent helpers, faith groups and some janitorial staff,” she said.

“The spaces used most often are the dining halls, kitchens and playgrounds, or sometimes the library areas and art rooms.”

Those projects not run in schools are usually held at community venues and delivered “in partnership” with schools, which are considered more suitable due to their facilities, kitchens and dining halls, as well as their trained catering staff, “but they are not the only places”, she added.

Several high-profile Conservative MPs have backed Field’s bill, making it more likely to pass.

They include the former education secretary Nicky Morgan and Graham Brady, the chair of the influential 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs.

Although many schools are already open during the holidays for clubs and other activities, the new bill would incur further costs as school facilities are put to greater use.

There are also questions about the sustainability of funding for councils, though the all-parliamentary group on hunger recently suggested in a report that money raised from the sugar tax could provide the £41.5 million needed.

Chaired by Field, the group suggested in April that handing every local authority just over £100,000 a year from the levy could end holiday hunger.

But future income from the levy remains in doubt after the Treasury admitted it expects to take in less cash than was first forecast.

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, said income from the tax would be lower because manufacturers are already taking sugar out of their drinks.

While he pledged to guarantee the planned £1 billion education investment from sugar tax money up to 2020, he has made no guarantees beyond then.

Frank Field’s office was approached for comment.

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