Children going hungry during summer holidays as cost of living rises, school warns

A school that is benefitting from a Welsh Government-funded scheme to provide free food and activities for children during the summer holidays has said it doesn't go far enough.

Up to £4.85 million has been made available to provide 8,000 children from disadvantaged areas across Wales with two healthy meals, physical activities and enrichment sessions.

But staff at Coed Eva Primary School in Cwmbran, which has been allocated 120 places on the scheme, have said potentially hundreds of children are missing out.

Wellbeing officer Rayann Elsworthy said rising bills are having a "worrying" impact on pupils and parents, who are "struggling to live day to day".

"Sometimes pupils are coming to school saying they haven't had breakfast or mum hasn't got enough shopping in the cupboards or the fridge, so they are picking up on it," she said.

"The numbers have gone up for the camp each year. We've got a reserve list for most of our camps.

"Children are coming to school hungry, tired, and it puts a big struggle for them to focus and for them to take in any information. We very often are dealing with emotional needs before their learning unfortunately."

Wellbeing officer Rayan Elsworthy said she sees children attending school hungry because their parents cannot afford to buy food.

Ms Elsworthy added that the cost of living crisis is also limiting child development.

"We are noticing a big change in ability, behaviour, the emotional wellbeing of the children, and it's becoming younger and younger that they are being affected, whereas previous years it wasn't as bad but it is definitely getting worse year by year."

The scheme, which is now in its eighth year, has received praise for keeping children occupied and healthy over the school break.

But Max Griffiths, who runs the activities in schools across Torfaen, feels the Welsh Government needs to reevaluate how its supporting vulnerable families.

"We need staff, we need support, we need funding. We need everything really," he said.

"I think we almost need an awakening in terms of how these families do suffer on a daily basis, and kind of how it's swept under the carpet a little bit. I think we really need that support for every single family and child."

The Welsh Government announced plans earlier this year to provide most children in reception year and every primary school pupil free schools meals from September.

Education Minister Jeremy Miles recognised that "families are feeling under pressure" due to the rising cost of living and that the summer holidays can present additional challenges.

He added: "The Food and Fun scheme makes the most of school facilities by offering fun activities as well as healthy meals, and can also play a role in helping children in disadvantaged areas to recover from the impact of the pandemic by supporting their wellbeing and education.

"Our ambition is for all schools in Wales to be Community Focused Schools which respond to the needs of their community and build strong partnerships with families and other services."