Holiday hunger faced by disadvantaged school children has been an important national issue for many years, and is expected to amplify in the coming months with the rise in cost of living.
Children from lower-income backgrounds are more at risk of holiday hunger, and whilst measures to encourage healthy eating habits within schools are crucial to long term positive health outcomes for the population, with much time spent at home, after school and during holidays, these school-based measures do not bring children from lower income families - who are more at risk of holiday hunger - an equal opportunity for positive health behaviour change.
To address this, in 2021 there was a nationwide implementation of the Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) programme, which provides a healthy meal, activities (e.g. sports and arts & crafts) and nutritional education to Free School Meals-eligible school children during the holidays. The aim of this programme is to ensure both adequate and healthy eating for children, promote active and enriching lifestyles despite the challenges of increased food and childcare costs experienced by many families during the holidays, and to improve family education on nutrition (and food budgeting) for long-term improvement in child nutrition.
While the HAF programme only rolled out nationally in 2021, there have been existing community-led approaches to addressing holiday hunger, such as Play:Full which was developed as a community response to holiday hunger and lack of holiday activities for children living in deprived areas of Banbury (North Oxfordshire), and has since been rolled out more widely across Oxfordshire.
Good Food Oxfordshire worked with an intern from the University of Oxford to review the food provision of ten holiday programmes delivered across Oxfordshire, to explore the differences and synergies between providers such as, and to propose suggestions for maximising their benefits. A key area of interest was looking at the provision from grassroots community groups (such as Play:Full), to see whether this differed from that of larger scale providers.
You can find the full report here , with key findings and recommendations summarised below:
- Children and families greatly benefit from the holiday programmes;
- There is variation in the quality of food provision and education provided – the HAF team in Oxfordshire are working hard to address this;
- Stigma (among others) remains a possible issue to access, particularly where some children are on paid places and others are state-funded;
- Additional benefits arise from community-centred projects e.g. Play:Full, such as established relationships between families and the community group;
- Knowledge around Play: Full remains uncertain or limited;
- More support is needed for under-recognised’ borderline’ target groups.
Based on the key findings in this report, several suggestions have been made about how to continue, address or improve specific aspects of programme delivery:
- Continued funding support for providers, including VSCs as these existing community hubs can ensure continuity in access to healthy food;
- Support providers that cater to greater age ranges;
- Enrich current programme elements e.g. food element through hot meal provision.
Read the opinion piece: How can we achieve practical and equitable improvements in child health?
To find out more about our internships, please find a summary from one of our interns – and the co-author of this report.
View our video on being a Play:Full provider and links to other Play:Full resources.