A couple and their two children leave the food bank in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, UK, after collecting a three-day emergency supply of food, April 2019. Food banks report a rise in families needing assistance during the school breaks. © 2019 Kartik Raj/Human Rights Watch

The summer holidays have begun here in Britain. For many children of low-income families what should be a happy time is instead filled with anxiety. Food aid charities predict an upsurge in poorer families relying on food banks, now that the school kitchens they relied on to provide their children with a buttered piece of toast at a morning breakfast club or a hot meal at lunch are closed for the summer.

Last week, a group of concerned parliamentarians hosted a meeting to discuss Human Rights Watch’s recent report on the right to food in the UK. Our research found that deep austerity-driven cuts to welfare spending and local authority funding over the past decade have left low-income families hungry and dependent on food aid from charities.

For children, the school canteen may be the only place they get a hot meal all day. With schools shut for the summer, up to a million children risk going hungry. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest national food bank network, recently revealed that it saw a 20 percent rise in emergency food parcels for children last summer, and they expect more this year.

As the world’s fifth largest economy, the UK has ample resources to ensure that its poorest families do not fall through the welfare safety net. The UK also has a duty under international human rights law to ensure everyone has access to adequate food, either by ensuring people can afford it, or if necessary, by providing food assistance programs for people in urgent need. The government should also recognize the right to food within domestic law as a key human right.

The government has slowly been acknowledging holiday hunger and has funded limited pilot projects to address it (it spent £2 million in 2018 and has promised to spend a further £9 million in 2019). Critics point out that this funding is limited and cannot address the root causes. Also, it is unclear from the government’s reply to Human Rights Watch whether this funding will continue.   

Ending childhood hunger in the UK should be high on the list of priorities for incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Summer holidays should be a time for children to rest and relax, not a period of anxiety and uncertainty over where their next proper meal will come from.