Thousands of Tyneside’s most vulnerable families will go hungry when a voucher support scheme is scrapped because of austerity cuts, leaders have warned.
A scheme which sees supermarket vouchers given to 2000 families in Newcastle to help feed their children over the school holidays has been axed as the Government slash £40m from the city council’s annual budget.
Under Newcastle City Council’s Crisis Support Scheme, families with children aged five and six, who have had their housing benefit reduced by the bedroom tax and are paying council tax for the first time, received Asda vouchers to help feed their youngsters during the Easter, Christmas and Summer school holidays.
But the council say they are forced to slash the service as the Government roll out their next round of cuts.
Leaders warned that cutting the benefit would lead to an increase in the number of people turning to foodbanks for emergency food parcels.
The announcement comes shortly after a teacher made claims some of his pupils returned to school after holidays “visibly thinner”.
Simon Kennedy, from teacher’s union NASUWT, said:
“It’s easy to point the finger at Newcastle City Council and say it’s their fault but this is the coalition government’s fault.
“This Government are hitting the most vulnerable and least well off families. I don’t think we can blame the council. The reality is when you get millions cut from your budget you have to cut it from somewhere.
“On May 7 people will be given the chance to vote and these are the sort of things people will take into consideration.
“We know people are going hungry and it’s not just over the holidays, it’s week in week out. We know that parents are missing meals to feed their kids.”
In April 2013 the Government abolished the Social Fund and asked local authorities to set up replacement schemes for Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants and the council set up the Crisis Support Scheme.
The funding falls under three areas and supports people in crisis, disaster or emergency, provides council tax assistance and did provide meals vouchers to schoolchildren in the holidays before it was cut.
In 2013/14 the council spent £214,000 to spend on the crisis support fund, and a further £173,000 in 2014/15. It will spend £116,000 in 2015/16, which includes a £50,000 overspend from the previous year.
In order to manage the reductions the council said they had no choice but to slash the voucher scheme.
This week letters went out to the affected families as they received their final set of vouchers over the Easter holidays.
Deputy leader of the council Joyce McCarty said:
“We are really disappointed this has been left to the local authority to fund.
“The Government have dumped the austerity cuts with local authorities who can’t afford to pick up the pieces and it’s the least well off in the community that are suffering.”
In Easter 2014 families with one child were awarded a £10 voucher, while families with more than one child were given £20.
A further £40 was handed to families with one child in the summer and an extra £60 to families with more than one child.
And at Christmas 2014 the vouchers were increased to £40 with families with one child and £60 for families with more than one child.
Ms McCarty added:
“It will add to the growing problem. It’s the same families who are struggling, it’s those families having to pay the bedroom tax and it’s things like this that tips people over the edge.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government said they would be unable to offer comment in the run up to the general election.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Apr 2015
North East teachers say they worry about the health of nearly two in five pupils when they return from school holidays because they are not given enough to eat.
Research by Kellogg’s also found that while holidays should be a fun time for families, term time breaks put an extra burden on the food budget of 27 per cent of parents in the region – with 17 per cent of parents struggling to feed their children three meals a day.
Of the 39 per cent of teachers who say there are pupils in their school that do not get enough to eat over the school holidays, more than a third of staff notice children returning to class with signs of weight loss and 43 per cent have seen a noticeable difference in their readiness to learn when they return for the new term.
And 30 per cent of North East teachers think offering holiday clubs at their school would ensure that children get fed properly, while 67 per cent believe they would give the added bonus of providing children with extra learning opportunities over the summer.
Adrian Curtis is director of the Trussell Trust Foodbank Network, which has two sites in Newcastle, one in Gateshead and one in Durham.
He said: “These are sad statistics when children spend 170 days out of school compared to 190 days in the classroom.
“School holidays are especially difficult for low income families whose children usually receive free school meals or support from breakfast clubs. Many are deeply concerned about being able to feed their children over the long break, and may resort to skipping meals to feed their children.”
He added: “Last year we saw foodbank usage in August increase by over a fifth compared to the same time in June, before the holidays began, and we expect this year’s figures to reflect a similar trend.
“On top of the existing work foodbanks do to help families struggling during the holidays, we have started to partner with companies, like Kellogg’s, to pilot running holiday breakfast clubs for families whose incomes are stretched to breaking point.”
The Kellogg’s Holiday Breakfast Club programme is held in schools, community centres and foodbanks across the UK to provide food and social activities. It is part of the company’s Help Give a Child a Breakfast initiative which aims to feed 80,000 families in need every day.
Katy Luke, manager of Blyth Valley Barnardos children’s centre, said: “We are aware that many families we work with are living in poverty and holidays are expensive for them, even when meeting basic costs not to mention treats which children hope to have on holiday.
“In our centre arrange a programme of activities that are free or low cost and we give families ideas of how to entertain youngster without having to break the bank. We also offer parents help during term time on how to cook healthy family meals on a tight budget.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 22 Aug 2014
Foodbank bosses fear there will be a huge rise in hand-outs during the school holidays as desperate families struggle to feed their children who would have received free school meals.
Families picked up almost a TONNE of goods from Hartlepool Foodbank in the first week of the school holidays.
The foodbank, in Church Street, usually hands out around half that amount each week to families on the breadline struggling to make ends meet.
But on the day many town schools broke up for their six-week break, volunteers at the Foodbank dished out more than 30 parcels to feed families.
Hartlepool Foodbank manager Al Wales said: “We were very busy this time last year, but as it was our first summer in operation it is difficult to say that is purely down to the school holidays as there are no previous figures to compare it to.
“But there is no doubt that the school holidays are a key factor in the increase in parcels we give out.
“Children who normally have their lunch at school are now at home, and they need to be fed.
“So the families are having to get more food than they normally would.
“We were extremely busy last Friday, and the collection on the Tuesday was also quite large.
“On a busy week, we can hand out about half a tonne of food across the week. “Last Friday, we did that in one day.”
The Foodbank opens twice a week, for two hour periods on Tuesdays and Fridays.
People deemed to be in need of handouts are referred to the Foodbank by health professionals, social workers or other agency staff.
Al added: “We carried out a collection in Morrisons recently because we knew we would be busy during the summer.
“The schools help us with regular donations, but when they are on holiday they obviously drop off.
“We’re well stocked, and we’re coping, but obviously more donations are always welcomed.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 26 July 2014