Holiday hunger: A major issue for families

Earlier this year, Employers For Childcare provided evidence to the Children’s Future Food Inquiry. The inquiry focuses on how children who are living in poverty across the UK are experiencing food insecurity, with many struggling to access sufficient or suitably nutritious food. It also looked at the impact long summer holidays have on families when expenditure and childcare costs often go up, but income does not.

Our Family Benefits Advice Service advisors work daily with families who are experiencing financial hardship, many of whom are experiencing food insecurity. We believe that in addressing how we can eliminate food poverty and insecurity, underlying causes of economic instability and disadvantage must be considered. Through our research with families in Northern Ireland, we know that access to affordable childcare plays a key role in helping parents to get into and stay in work. That is why we are calling for investment in our vital childcare infrastructure to ensure that it is affordable both to access and to deliver, otherwise, balancing the cost of childcare with other household expenses can impact negatively on families’ financial stability.

The Northern Ireland Childcare Survey 2019 found almost half of respondents (48%) are going without or cutting back on essentials to try and give their children what they need in order to pay their childcare bill. Worryingly, parents told us:

 “I skip meals a couple of times a week and our groceries are cut down and we have to feed four people.”

“We have gone without new clothes and cut back on portion sizes of food.”

“Not being able to afford food adequately and have had to cut back on food for the house.”

We also heard from parents who said this was exacerbated during summer months as their childcare costs increase. As a result, there are growing concerns of food insecurity during school closure periods for families entitled to free school meals during term time. At the same time, changes to the welfare system such as the introduction of Universal Credit, are contributing to the uncertainty and financial worries for some families.

We shared this evidence with the Inquiry Committee, recognising that to address many of the issues that are raised, we need to consider fundamental and root causes of economic difficulties within households.

The Inquiry is asking the Government to establish an independent watchdog for children’s food to provide urgent leadership and action from all four governments across the UK. The watchdog must consider conducting a full economic costing of the recommendations from the Inquiry so they can report to parliament on priorities by 2020 for immediate implementation.

Further information and advice

If you are unsure about what support your family is entitled to, contact our Family Benefits Advice Service on 028 9267 8200, Monday-Friday 8am to 5pm. This service is free, impartial and confidential.

To find out more about the challenges facing families in terms of childcare, and what financial support is available, watch this podcast with Parentline, featuring our Policy and Information Manager, Aoife Hamilton.