Families struggling with cost of living crisis face 'grim' summer holidays, charities warn

As children head into the long school holidays, charities are warning families already struggling with the cost of living face 'grim choices'.

And while energy bills, rent and food prices go up -  so too is the cost of holiday childcare.

Landlord Ernie Welch of the Old Star in Winsford, Cheshire, has plenty of experience pulling pints, but throughout the school holidays he will also be providing a free meal for any child who wants one.

He says it's his way of helping families struggling with the cost of living.

Pub landlord Ernie Welch is giving away free meals to children of school age during the summer holidays

He said: "I've worked in the community all my life. I'm earning money and if I can fill a little gap for the children In Winsford I'm happy to do it.

"I know myself how utility bills are soaring through the roof- well a lot of these families are in a worse predicament because they are making every penny count to survive."

Teacher Lisa Berry thinks lots of families will be grateful for the extra help

Teacher Lisa Berry thinks lots of local families will be grateful for the extra support. She said: "I think it's a really difficult time for lots of people in general including parents.

"Obviously childcare is expensive, fuel costs, rising cost of living in terms of food.

"Lots of children are provided with a free school meal during the week when they are at school but the six or seven week holiday for children is a really difficult time for parents to cover that additional cost."

Keeping kids entertained and occupied over the long summer holidays can often feel like a job in itself. For working parents there's also the crippling cost of childcare.

The Octagon Theatre in Bolton and Bolton Libraries and Museums is offering a free activity programme over the summer for children who receive free school meals.

While places are limited they believe it's a step in the right direction.

Roddy Gauld, chief executive of The Octagon said: "Part of our mission is for everyone to be happier and healthier by taking part in theatre and the arts.

"We know the cost of living is squeezing budgets right now.  Bolton in particular has a problem with poverty and the number of children and families living in poverty.

"As a charity part of our work is being accessible, part of what we do is making sure that everyone has the opportunity to take part and thats why we have joined forces with the governments HAF programme and other partners to put this activity together."

Research out this week by the charity Coram Family and Childcare shows holiday childcare costs have risen by 5% in the past year.

The average weekly cost of holiday childcare in the North West is now around a £137.

Megan Jarvie from the charity said: "This is another squeeze on family budgets that are already under pressure and it makes it really difficult for families to make ends meet.

"It is particularly difficult because this is twice as much as term time childcare costs because they need more hours in the day when children are not at school and that fluctuation the rise and the fall in prices can be really difficult to manage on a family budget."

In response a government spokesperson said: "We have spent more than £4bn in each of the past five years to support families with the cost of childcare.

"Thousands of children from low-income families are benefiting from our Holiday Activities and Food programme during the long school holidays, backed by £200m a year over the next three years."

But experts say for those families on low incomes the next six weeks will be anything but a holiday.

The Octagon Theatre and Bolton Libraries and Museums have teamed up this summer to give young people aged 11-16 who receive free school meals the opportunity to get creative, make friends and have a fabulous action packed summer with a free activity programme.

The Get Creative programme starts on the Tuesday 26 July and runs for four weeks throughout the summer holidays. Young people will take part in art workshops, drama sessions and day trips to experience fun, outdoor activities around Bolton. All the activity is completely free for young people who are eligible. A free lunch will also be provided each day to all participants.

Sessions will run Tuesdays to Fridays, 10.30am – 2.30pm for four weeks, starting on Tuesday 26 July. Participants do not need to be available for every session, but do need to book a place before coming along.

Please email slms@bolton.gov.uk or phone 01204 338121 for more information and to book a place.