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Parents give evidence about ‘food insecurity’ at Houses of Parliament

On 3rd July, Birkenhead’s community organiser, Eve Barrett – of the North Birkenhead Development Trust (NBDT) Social Action Hub – supported a group of parents from Birkenhead to share their stories with a Westminster inquiry into school holiday poverty.

Aware that school holidays can place additional burdens on families – and that low-income parents are at particular risk of experiencing financial difficulties during the holidays because of extra childcare costs and the absence of free school meals for their children – the inquiry was held jointly by the Government’s Work and Pensions Committee and Education Committee, and was chaired by Birkenhead’s MP Frank Field.

The opportunity for the parents to speak at the inquiry came about because NBDT is one of the partners working with the ‘Feeding Birkenhead’ project – a coalition of churches, community groups, and other organisations who aim to provide decent meals to as many people in need as possible, while also seeking to prevent that need from arising again over the longer term.

Eve explains: “As part of Feeding Birkenhead, NBDT regularly submits written reports to committees and enquiries – but with ‘food insecurity’, it felt different. Our community organisers were hearing powerful stories from local parents – and I thought that it would be even more powerful if those stories could be told directly to the inquiry, in person – so, I cheekily suggested to them that they should invite us to London …and pay for the trip!”

This boldness paid off, and the Work and Pensions and Education Committees invited three parents from Birkenhead to take part in a one-off evidence session on school holiday poverty at the Houses of Parliament.

I feel 6ft tall as no one that important has ever listened to me before!

“We went down for the day, under the banner of Birkenhead Community Organisers – with three mums and four children,” says Eve “for some of us, it was the furthest we’d ever been from Wirral!”

The group was hosted in Westminster by MP Frank Field, and – while the parents gave evidence – Eve took the children on a sight-seeing tour of the capital: “it was a real treat for the kids, we visited the London Eye, the Natural History Museum; had an ice cream before heading back to Parliament to meet with their mums.”

After the session finished, Frank Field took the whole group for lunch at the Houses of Parliament, before taking them on a tour of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

I have listened to a lot of evidence in the last four years serving on the Education Committee and I have never heard anything as compelling and honest as I have heard from you ladies. I really want to thank you, because real living experience absolutely informs the best kind of report from a Select Committee. Thank you.
Marion Fellows MP

Karen said to Eve at the end of the day: “I feel 6ft tall as no one that important has ever listened to me before!”

Reflecting on the visit, Eve said: “It has shown that NBDT can be that connection between our local community and people in positions of power.  There’s a massive shift from an organisation submitting  a written response to an inquiry to real, local people speaking directly to a committee in London.  And it should be those people – with the ‘lived experience’ – who are the ones that the MPs listen to.”

 


Read the full House of Commons report of the one-off evidence session on school holiday poverty HERE

You can also see a video of the inquiry evidence HERE

Visit the inquiry page on the Your Parliament website HERE

 

Evidence given by:

  • Karen Rotheram, Parent, from Birkenhead North Development Trust, St James Centre, Wirral,
  • Dawn Taplin, Parent from Birkenhead North Development Trust, St James Centre, Wirral,
  • Anne Newbould, Parent from Neo Community Centre, Birkenhead, Wirral.

 

  • Nichola Salvato, Parent from Save The Children in Sussex,
  • Martha Mackenzie, Director of UK Poverty Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, Save the Children,
  • Abby Jitendra, Policy and Research Manager, The Trussell Trust,
  • Megan Jarvie, Head of Coram Family and Childcare,
  • Ema Wilkes, Director, Neo Community,
  • Sophie Howes, Senior Policy and Research Officer, Child Poverty Action Group.

 

Scope of the inquiry

Both Committees are aware that school holidays can place additional burdens on families. Low-income parents are at particular risk of experiencing financial difficulties during the holidays, because of extra childcare costs and the absence of free school meals for their children.

Save the Children and other organisations have raised concerns about the impact that school holidays can have on families on a low income. The APPG on Hunger’s Hungry Holidays 2017 report cited research estimating that the loss of free school meals adds between £30 and £40 per week to parents’ outgoings during school holidays. The report also estimated that up to 3 million children are at risk of going hungry in the school holidays—1 million children who receive free school meals during term time, and another 2 million children who are ineligible for free school meals but are growing up in households in in-work poverty.

Childcare provision and costs can also be a problem for families during school holidays, so the Committees will also look at how well the Government’s 30 hours free childcare offer for 3 and 4 year-olds is working for parents in practice.

The Work and Pensions Committee’s recent work on Universal Credit and childcare revealed the difficulties that parents on Universal Credit face with childcare costs, which may be exacerbated during the school holidays.

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