Glasgow & West Scotland

Scots families struggle to feed children in school holidays

Marissa Holten
Image caption Marissa Holten has to watch her spending with three children during the school holidays

For many parents, week one of the school holidays does not mean free time, play and trips away.

It means struggling to fill cupboards, worry about children eating enough and despair over filling the long weeks to come.

Scotland's local authorities have admitted the demand to support struggling families has soared.

Councils say they are spending larger portions of their core budgets on holiday schemes which provide food.

Charities help the local authorities to increase support for children from low income families, backed by £350,000 from the Scottish government.

On the first day of Scotland's school holidays, anti-poverty campaigners are calling for the government to restore the value of family benefits.

'It's about priorities'

Local authority body Cosla is highlighting the role Scotland's councils are having to play in tackling "holiday hunger".

It says having to provide for children and young people doesn't end when the schools close for the holidays.

The body's children and young people spokesman Councillor Stephen McCabe said: "As part of our holiday provision councils are giving support to families by providing fun activities and a nutritious meal. It runs through the summer and is also now in the Easter and October holidays as well."

Image caption Councils offer varying schemes but all offer a nutritious meal for children and, sometimes, parents

However, the increased provision has to come from the council's own core budget which has seen increasing cuts over recent years.

Speaking at a play programme at Blairmore Nursery School in Greenock, Councillor McCabe said: "It is challenging. It's about priorities. Obviously in an area like this poverty and deprivation are huge issues, so we need to ensure we try to support families as best we can.

"It is challenging with restricted budgets and falling budgets and actually sustaining this project over the next few years is going to be increasingly difficult. But the need is significant.

"We support families during school term time by providing free school meals. The same families have children that need fed outside school time. And seven weeks is a long time for families to have to find resources to feed their children."

'I don't know how some people cope'

Image caption Local authority holiday provision aims to provide one nutritious meal

Parents of children at the Blairmore play scheme appreciate the help during the holidays,

Marissa Holten, a single parent of three children, said: "It's hard because trying to get out and use buses with three kids is difficult. Everything costs money.

Margaret Wilkie said the holiday schemes keep her going. "There's a free lunch - you can't knock it. At nursery they feed them all day but when they're at home all day in the holidays it's lunch, snack - it's constant," she said.

Debbie Ferguson has a five-year-old. She said: "It can be a lot of money - going out during the week. We come to the play sessions because it is free and keeps them active. I don't know how people could cope moneywise with more than one or two kids."

A Cosla survey in 2018 showed that local authorities across Scotland already used their core budgets to provide food during holiday periods, the majority of which was attached to existing holiday clubs or other activities.

Further consultation with members this year found the majority of local authorities continue to invest in school holiday provision with many having to increase this investment to meet rising demand.

"The school holidays are a time for fun, but I know it can be a struggle for families when schools are closed," Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said.

She said the government was working with third sector groups and councils to provide more places where children can go to play, socialise and have a nutritious meal.

And she added that the new Scottish child payment - worth £10 per eligible child per week - would lift 30,000 children out of poverty by 2023/24.

Feel guilty

John Dickie, from the Child Poverty Action Group, says holiday hunger continues to be a real problem.

He said: "There's no question the pressures low income families face during the school term are more acute during the holidays.

"We know from our work of parents lying awake at night worrying about how they are going to feed their children. But also feeling guilty that they can't offer their children the holiday experiences that better-off families take for granted.

Image caption John Dickie from the Child poverty Action Group hears real stories of struggling parents, many of whom are working

"It's absolutely vital that government at every level thinks about how we support families throughout the year but particularly in school holidays. That is fundamentally about making sure they have enough money so that they can give their children a decent holiday and a decent life throughout the year. "

He said the school holidays pile the pressure on already struggling parents.

Financial support

He said: "There's a need for additional food, additional childcare on top of household bills - never mind ice creams or a family outing. This becomes impossible for some of our families, both in and out of work who really have become hit extraordinarily hard by the massive cuts to value of child benefit and universal credit.

"Too often they are unable to access the hours and the work and the childcare they need to be able to work."

Mr Dickie believes there are measures to be taken immediately.

He said: "We need action to make sure families can get access to the financial supports they are entitled to and action at UK level to restore the value of UK benefits. Ensuring families have access to the financial support they are entitled to is absolutely critical."

A UK government spokeswoman said: "We recognise that some families need more support, which is why we're spending over £95 billion a year on welfare. In Universal Credit, no one has to wait to be paid as up to 100% advances are available from day one of a claim and budgeting support is available for anyone who needs extra help.

"Meanwhile, Scotland has significant welfare powers, including flexibilities within Universal Credit and the power to top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether."

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