Holiday hunger: Thousands of children relying on crowdfunding to eat after government pulls backing

Tens of thousands of children are being forced to rely on charity and crowdfunding to eat this summer after the government denied funding for holiday hunger projects, ITV News has learned.

The Department for Education has given £9m to 11 summer holiday clubs dedicated to providing food and activities to children over the holidays.

However, parts of the country have not received a penny of funding after the government only selected 11 "pilot areas", forcing local organisations to crowdfund to provide meals to children who usually receive free school meals.

ITV News has learned organisations in Birkenhead, Bristol, Derbyshire, Leicester, South Shields, Barnsley and Coventry have all had to rely on crowdfunding and charity to provide food after having the funding from the Department for Education (DfE) taken away.

One organisation that failed to benefit from the government funding despite receiving it last year is New Parks Adventure Playground in Leicester - a place mum Sarah Allden relies on to feed her two children during the holidays.

If it wasn't for New Parks Adventure Playground, many families in Leicester would struggle to feed their children. Credit: ITV News

She told ITV News: "You've got to work out your budget, how you're going to find this extra money, because the money you've living on obviously is covering everything else, bills and what not.

"You're literally left with pence basically and you can't survive like that. I can imagine a lot of children who are not visiting places like this are suffering in silence and for me it's heartbreaking."

In Leicester, the city council was forced to step in to help, with £30,000 worth of funding for summer holiday projects.

Leicester Deputy City Mayor Cllr Sarah Russell said: "We shouldn't have children who are reliant on charity to be able to be fed over the school holidays.

"But it sticks in the gullet a bit because it shouldn't happen."

In total, 92 organisations bid for funding from the DfE, but only 11 were successful.

In the rejection letters seen by ITV News, the DfE says: "The intention of the 2019 programme of work is to test the impact of the coordination of free holiday a small number of Local Authority areas across the county."

By selecting a “small number of Local Authority areas”, large parts of the country that last year received help have this summer been denied it.

Sarah Allden relies on New Parks Adventure Playground in Leicester to feed her two children during the school holidays. Credit: ITV News

The letter also casts doubt on whether the government will pull funding for holiday hunger schemes in the future: "The testing and evaluation of this model will enable the Government to make an evidence-based decision about whether, and how, to intervene in the longer-term."

Andy Parkinson, from food charity FareShare said: "We're providing up to 1500 (meals) a day through this program, so that's 1500 kids who are getting food from us - I would say that's just scratching the surface really."

The government says the £9m it is spending will provide meals and activities for 50,000 children.

But DfE figures state there are 1.1 million children on free school meals.

In response, the DfE said: "This year we invested £9 million in summer holiday clubs, providing activities and hot meals for disadvantaged children.

"This pilot will help show how we coordinate free provision in different areas, and help us decide how best to intervene in the future.

"With Universal Credit no one has to wait to be paid. Advances are available on day one and 96% of payments are made in full and on time."