Tower Hamlets Council is providing free meals for children across the borough during the school holidays.
11 holiday clubs opened in Tower Hamlets schools earlier this week, providing a free breakfast and lunch for 330 children per day.
The holiday childcare clubs will open for 18 days over the school summer break. They are open to all and will also give families access to sport, arts and crafts and games activities.
Alongside this venture, the council is also running a ‘Fit and Fed’ scheme which will offer an additional 10,034 free meals to young people attending activities at Idea Stores, leisure, youth and outdoor education centres.
Councillor Danny Hassell, Cabinet Member for Children, Schools and Young People, said: “Our holiday programmes will encourage children and young people to engage in sport, exercise and a variety of fun activities and will also support low income families who may struggle to provide their children with healthy meals.”
School holiday clubs are being held at St Paul’s Whitechapel, Manorfield and Old Palace in Bromley-by-Bow, Cayley in Stepney, Stebon in Bow Common, Elizabeth Selby in Bethnal Green, and three schools in Poplar: Mayflower Primary, Lansbury Lawrence and Bygrove Primary.
Children from Our Lady and St Joseph’s Catholic Primary and Woolmore Primary schools are being catered for at the Neighbours in Poplar community centre at St Mathias Church, while those from Marner Primary are being provided for at Poplar Harca housing association.
According to Tower Hamlets Council, over a third of school pupils in the borough are eligible for free school meals. This is one of the highest ratios in London, reaching 15,000 children out of almost 45,000 in east London.
The programme, which was first implemented last year, aims to tackle some of the pressures families face during the school holiday period when free school meals are unavailable.
The council has approved almost £80,000 of funding in order to provide more than 21,000 free meals.
Tower Hamlets has the highest rate of child poverty in Great Britain, with 31 per cent of children living in families below the poverty line. This figure is almost double the rate nationally.
The council has acknowledged that food poverty is a large and growing problem for many families, particularly during the summer months.
“Children living in food poverty do less well academically and are more likely to be obese or experience physical and mental health conditions,” added a council spokesperson.
John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said:“While the summer break should be a time for relaxation and enjoyment, the reality is that families often experience a range of challenges at this time of the year. This includes financial pressures and difficulties in sourcing childcare or holiday activities, which are accessible and affordable.
“Our summer holiday provision will alleviate some of the pressure by giving children and young people opportunities to take part in fun activities and also have nutritious meals during the school break.”
This intiative is just one example of the fight to combat food poverty across the country. The Government has also allocated £9million in funding in a bid to tackle the crisis.
50,000 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds will receive free meals and activities inside schools nationwide.
According to official figures, more than four million children in the UK are growing up in poverty with around one million children being eligible for free school meals due to their parents’ low income.
The Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank provider, says this summer may “be the busiest yet” in many areas.
The trust revealed that in 2018 there was a 20% increase nationwide in demand for food banks during the summer holidays.
Speaking on child food poverty, Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “Schools are going above and beyond to support their pupils, but they shouldn’t have to act as a fourth emergency service.
“It should be the government, not schools, that makes sure no child goes hungry. Yet the Tories have slashed support for families, leaving more children to grow up in poverty, and the new Prime Minister has made clear his priority will be more handouts to big business and the super-rich.”