Frank Field MP: The next step for the holiday hunger campaign
In the fourth instalment of our series focusing on the issue of holiday hunger, we spoke to Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead and founder of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty.
There are two roles which every serious reformer should try to fulfil simultaneously. The first is to provide immediate help to people in need. The second is to use the information they pick up from this work to eliminate the causes of the injustice which gives rise to such grief and hardship.
It is the combination of these two roles – social entrepreneur and legislator – which has guided the campaign in Parliament against child hunger and malnutrition during school holidays.
In doing so, it has brought about a quiet revolution in what it means to be a Member of Parliament.
The seeds of this revolution lie in the steep growth, which became apparent five years ago, in the numbers of families seeking help from food banks.
Having witnessed with horror how this trend was playing out in our constituencies, a cross-party group of MPs came together to form a charity called Feeding Britain.
It is the combination of these two roles – social entrepreneur and legislator – which has guided the campaign in Parliament against child hunger
We had as our objective both setting up and managing programmes which could reverse this trend, and then applying the lessons from these programmes in our efforts to influence government policy.
In Birkenhead, it became evident that one of the key drivers of food bank growth was the barrage of additional costs, as well as the absence of free school meals, which clobbered household budgets during school holidays.
But that’s not all. We also found that the gaps in performance, attainment, and behaviour, between children in these circumstances and their more fortunate classmates were becoming wider as a result of this social evil.
It became evident that one of the key drivers of food bank growth was the barrage of additional costs, as well as the absence of free school meals, which clobbered household budgets during school holidays.
We therefore set to work on stage one of our response: a regular programme of free meals and fun activities for children across the town.
Almost immediately, our local food bank registered a decline in the numbers of families seeking their help. The children who would have been at their door were instead picking up new skills, having lots of fun, eating nutritious meals, and bonding with other children on the programme.
In stage two, similar programmes began to be nurtured by MPs across the Feeding Britain network and, within a couple of years, our cross-party group was able to execute stage three: drafting legislation, based on what we had learnt from each programme, which would enshrine in government policy a commitment to eliminate "holiday hunger" from children’s lives.
It was at this point we gained an initial series of trials, backed up by £11 million from the Department for Education, to find out the most effective means of honouring that commitment.
Now we have moved onto a fourth crucial stage. After two years of trials, and the continued growth of Feeding Britain’s programmes, the Department has a decision to make. How, if at all, will it meet that commitment in the longer term?
The new Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, is keen for our country to take this giant leap towards equalising children’s life chances.
Having embraced our dual role, as social entrepreneurs and legislators, MPs from the Feeding Britain network are ready to present him with a blueprint for an effective, comprehensive programme that is backed up with sufficient funds and will deliver the results that are expected by the taxpayer.
After two years of trials, and the continued growth of Feeding Britain’s programmes, the Department has a decision to make. How, if at all, will it meet that commitment in the longer term?