Ministers are examining how holiday clubs could be used to feed hungry youngsters in England in an effort to solve the free school meals row, as a Tory Minister claims that children appreciate activities more than food.
The Holiday Activity and Food Programme is the brainchild of Henry Dimbleby, the Government’s food tsar and co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain, and was trialled across 17 local authorities over the summer.
Mr Dimbleby said the Government “isn’t doing enough” to address the issue of children going hungry and called for urgent action.
The Government is facing mounting public anger at its refusal to extend free school meals into half-term and beyond following a campaign spearheaded by England footballer Marcus Rashford.
The Manchester United star has backed some of the recommendations made by Mr Dimbleby, who leads the National Food Strategy and has called for the extension of the Holiday Activity and Food Programme across England.
Mr Dimbleby told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This problem is real. It should go without saying it’s serious. It’s immediate and it’s going to get worse as employment gets worse and the Government isn’t doing enough.
“One in seven families already are reporting not being able to afford enough food.”
It comes as footballer Marcus Rashford’s petition to ensure children get free school meals is about to hit a million signatures.
Ministers said they were examining the pilot schemes to see what lessons could be learned and Boris Johnson is reported to be considering giving extra funds to councils to set up the clubs.
Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News: “These are incredibly important pilots and we will look at how we can learn from those and how we can build on this.
“The best way to do it – as the Prime Minister quite rightly outlined – is through local government. 17 local authorities participated in that pilot and of course through the actual welfare system, the Universal Credit system, delivering that additional help for those families.”
The minister said that for some parents “more important than the food to them was the activities” available at the clubs.