Charities just hope food parcel donations keep on coming to get parents through this difficult time, as Sarah Corker reports
"The deprivation in places like this is going to get worse. We need more help."
During the long and often expensive summer holidays, the free lunches for children at the Eastmoor Community Project in Wakefield are a lifeline for families on low incomes.
Olivia Rowley, who helped to found the community centre 20 years ago, told me it was "alarming and upsetting" to see so many children coming to them hungry as their parents can’t afford the basics.
Over the six-week break hundreds of children aged between five and 16 years old, who are eligible for free school meals, will get home cooked food, sport sessions and arts activities. The country-wide Happy Healthy Holidays programme is funded by the Department for Education.
Figures shared with ITV News by a number of charities including Action for Children, Food Foundation, Magic Breakfast and The Children’s Society show the level of need amongst parents is soaring.
An estimated 2.6 million children are living in households facing food insecurity, and often start the day hungry.
As the cost of living has surged, demand for some school breakfast clubs has tripled since 2019.
At the same time, councils have warned that due to emergency funding changes, there’s less money to support families with children.
The Eastmoor Estate was built after World War One to house workers for the local mining industry, railways and textiles. It has a strong sense of community, but there are also pockets of severe deprivation.
'This area is a deprived area but over this period it's increased drastically' - Luke McNamara, Vice Principal of Outwood Primary Academy Park Hill
At the heart of the community is the Outwood Primary Academy Park Hill. Vice Principal Luke McNamara told ITV News that they’ve always provided "wrap-around care for families" but are having to "go even further as demand for help rises".
“We’re turning a section of the school into a community hub where we can provide help on finances, mental health and well-being for families," he said.
"That is a result of more parents going through a difficult time financially, we need to be much more proactive."
Across the UK, the economic climate means that schools are going well beyond their conventional roles as educators. In many ways they have become an extension of the welfare state; opening food banks, uniform swap shops, and delivering emergency care packages.
At Carlton Bolling Academy in Bradford, the end of term doesn’t mean the work stops. ITV News joined school staff as they delivered emergency care parcels to ensure that pupils, and their families, had enough to eat this summer.
“I think it's the first time in my career where I've actually had to work so closely with local charities,” head of the school, Mohammed Azum, told me.
“When I attended school, it was purely an establishment where you would be educated," he said. "Now we are a lot more than that. We provide a safe place for our students, but our families as well.”
A former pupil himself, Mr Azum has close links with the local community. A couple of weeks later, he is leading the summer school.
“Our holiday club is a provision for students who are either coming to join us next year or students who we identify as being vulnerable and need extra additional support in the holidays," he said.
"We have been described as a beacon of hope and also an anchor community as well.”
The support on offer extends to parents too. The academy is working alongside the Yorkshire Asian Business Association (YABA) to host employment classes for mothers to help them get the skills they need to find work.
'For the kids at this school to have any chance they really do need that wrap-around pastoral care, that community care, that support, to even stand a smidgen of an opportunity when they get out into the big, wide world' - YABA founder, Sharon Jandu
Sharon Jandu, from YABA, said: “The women get a lot of one-to-one support, mentoring and building confidence.
"The idea is not just building the mothers up but also building the kids up that go to this school. It’s about lifting up this community.”
Schools leaders say they are filling the void left behind by youth clubs that have closed down. All of this comes at a time when their own budgets are being wrecked by double-digit inflation.
To address rising costs, the government says it’s providing £37 billion to help the most vulnerable families. This includes a £650 payment, sent in two instalments, to nearly one in four families across the UK.
A government spokesperson said: “The Holiday Activities and Food programme runs during the school holidays and has been supporting disadvantaged children this summer with enriching activities and healthy meals. We are also investing up to £24 million in the National School Breakfast Programme to support pupils in term time.”