Food for Thought

14 Jun 2017 Andrea Thornbury    Last updated: 15 Jun 2017

Every day in school more than 100,000 children from low-income families in NI have access to a nutritional lunch funded by the Department of Education. But who fills that void for struggling families during the 8 week school break? 

More than one in four school age children are at risk of hunger during the summer holidays, according to new findings by Detail Data.

Voluntary organisations working with some of the most disadvantaged children fear that more than 100,000 kids – some as young as two - could be missing out on their main daily meal or existing on poor diets in July and August.

Children in Northern Ireland (CiNI) policy officer, Ellen Finlay said: “Summer can be the hungriest time of the year. Many children and young people who rely on free school meals struggle to get enough to eat during the summer months. There are strict criteria for free school meal entitlement including being in receipt of certain benefits, a household earning cap of £16,190, being the child of an asylum seeker or if none of the above apply and a child presents at school hungry, then the school should, on humanitarian grounds, provide free school meals to the child”.

But that entitlement begins and ends at the school door with no government body filling the 44 day void during the holiday period when hard-pressed families may also have additional costs.

For Belfast-based asylum seeker Sipho Sibanda, whose child is in primary school, the summer “brings terrible hardship on families. You have to rely on food banks,” she explained. “We resort to toasted bread all the time because one can’t afford to provide for all the meal times and snacks in between.”

Detail Data has examined school meal statistics and also figures held by the Trussell Trust on foodbanks and our key findings include: The Trussell Trust has confirmed a 17% increase in children in NI using foodbanks during July and August compared to May and June.

The postcode area with the highest percentage of free school meal entitlement is BT12 - the Sandy Row and Village area of Belfast where 74% of children (3,863) will lose access to a free meal when schools close later this month.
 
198 children of asylum seeking families will miss out on a free daily meal during the summer holidays.
 
196 schools in the most disadvantaged areas offer breakfast provision meaning some kids may be missing out on two meals during summer.
 
1,799 two and three year olds who attend nursery full-time are entitled to free school meals.

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