BY Peter Diamond | June 28 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

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Warnings over summer holiday food poverty

A priest has warned of a ‘holiday hunger’ due to strike Scotland as a Christian food bank revealed there is a stark increase in use of its services by families reliant on free school meals.

Statistics revealed by the Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest food bank network, this week revealed that in 2018 there was a 21 per cent increase in emergency food parcels for children in Scotland during the summer recess.

The Church through organisations such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SSVP) provide food parcels to the homeless and collect for food banks.

Fr Joe Mackle, parish priest of St Andrew’s Church in Bearsden, said: “Our parish collects every week for Drumchapel food bank but during school holidays there is extra demand because there is no school meals for those who are entitled to them during term time.

“We collect and supply for them and we ask parishioners to be mindful of this, and to their credit they give generously.”

According to the Trussell Trust, most food aid providers have a connection with a religious institution.

Over a third of all emergency food parcels distributed by Scottish food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network go to ­children, but there is extra financial pressure during the holiday period for families who are entitled to free school meals during term time.

In 2018-19, food bank use escalated throughout the year with a 23 per cent total increase, and it is expected this trend will continue, prompting concerns that this summer will be the Trussell Trust network’s busiest to date. Ahead of schools breaking up this week, the Trussell Trust is urging people to check what items their local food bank is most in need of.

Laura Ferguson, operations manager for Scotland at the Trussell Trust, said: “Food banks do all they can to help families over the summer, with many running holiday clubs to support parents who find that their income simply won’t stretch to meet the extra pressure of missing free school meals or paying for extra childcare during the holidays.

“But ultimately, we should all be protected from needing a food bank’s help, no matter the time of the year. If we are to end hunger in Scotland, we need to make sure everyone is anchored from being swept into poverty. The government needs to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living and work is secure, paying the real Living Wage, which would help eliminate the need for a food bank parcel altogether.”

Figures from the charity show that 6,551 food parcels were distributed to children in Scotland during the six weeks of the school summer holidays in 2018, a 21 per cent increase on the same period in 2017. In 2009, there was one Trussell Trust food bank operating in Scotland. By April 2017, there were 52.

A spokeswoman for SSVP branch of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Kilmarnock said they visit schools to find out how many pupils need help over the summer.

“We deliver food parcels to the homes of families over the summer or we leave them in pre-arranged building if there is a reason for them to remain anonymous,” she said. “It’s something that we’ve been doing in Kilmarnock for years and during that time we’ve helped a lot of families.

“We do a lot of work that is unseen and people don’t realise. We are funded by donations from the parish.

“I’ve been involved in SSVP for about 20 years and I would say the demand has always been there for help but increasingly it is now people who are in work, on low wages or zero hour contracts who cannot provide enough for their families due to circumstances.

“People who don’t have much try and come back and help you for helping them, which is really astonishing.”

A spokesperson for the Catholic Church said ‘many hundreds’ of Catholic volunteers coordinate food parcel collections.

It said that ‘while we must challenge the underlying causes which result in poverty and injustice,’ the Church ‘encourages ­people of all faiths and none to be especially mindful in the coming weeks’ of those who rely on food banks.

“In reaching out to those who need our kindness, love and support, we put our Faith into action. As St Vincent de Paul said, ‘Charity is the cement which binds communities to God and persons to one another.’”

Chris Stephens, a Catholic SNP MP for Glasgow South West, said: “Holiday hunger is a huge issue. Those pupils who obtain a free school meal or attend a ­breakfast club at school no longer have access to them when they go holiday and that is why the work in communities taken on by various groups including faith ones is so vital.

“One of the reasons there has been an increase in the past year will be the impact and effects of Universal Credit but also the influx of refugees and asylum seekers who’s children attend schools. These ­people are only entitled to £37 per week which is not a lot of money at all.

“The churches and Christian community are doing everything they can to alleviate poverty and particularly food poverty and their role shouldn’t be understated.”

Paul Sweeney, a Catholic Labour MP for Glasgow North East, said: “There is no ­holiday from the scourge of poverty for thousands of families across Scotland—indeed for many the added pressure of children being at home over the summer proves to be the breaking point for household finances.

“I pay tribute to the work of church communities in meeting that need day in and day out, including excellent projects in my own constituency of Glasgow North East like St Augustine’s in Milton, which I had the pleasure of visiting recently. They are truly putting their Faith into action.”

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