'Holiday hunger' scheme to be piloted in Carrickfergus

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A scheme tackling 'holiday hunger' among schoolchildren is to be piloted in Carrickfergus next summer, it was reported at this month’s meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

The issue was highlighted to Education Minister Peter Weir during a recent meeting when he was urged to consider the longer term impact of “holiday hunger” when free meal payments covering school holiday periods end in April 2022.

The virtual meeting took place on April 29 after a motion brought forward by Carrickfergus DUP councillor Alderman Billy Ashe and seconded by party colleague Councillor Beth Adger was passed by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

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Ald Ashe called on the council to write to the Education Minister and invite other councils to write in support of implementing free school meals during summer holidays for those entitled to ensure that no child goes hungry.

Access to a healthy nutritious meal should be a basic right for all children, said the Education Minister.Access to a healthy nutritious meal should be a basic right for all children, said the Education Minister.
Access to a healthy nutritious meal should be a basic right for all children, said the Education Minister.

Mid and East Antrim Mayor DUP Councillor Peter Johnston told the May meeting of the borough council: “We were reassured to hear that the Minister is looking at a longer term plan for holiday hunger once the current free school meal payment ceases in April 2022.

“Council will have an opportunity to submit its views and proposals for this both directly to the Department of Education and via the current consultation by the Department for Communities on the Anti-Poverty Strategy.

“It is very pleasing that the Minister has agreed to do a small pilot in Carrickfergus to address the real issue of holiday hunger and has agreed to work with the proposer of the motion to do this as an evaluation piece for the work going forward.”

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The Education Minister has said previously: “I realise the vital importance for children who normally receive a free school meal to have access to a nutritious meal without placing their family under further hardship in these difficult times.

“This is a very worrying time for families particularly those with school age children and these payments will help to support them during school holiday periods.

“Access to a healthy nutritious meal should be a basic right for all children and it is vital that we continue this support to ensure children and young people come back to school after holiday periods, healthy and ready to learn. Their future depends on it.”

School holiday grant payments are being made direct to families to cover all school holiday periods, including mid-term breaks until Easter 2022.

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Ald Ashe said that it had been a “fairly positive meeting” and he had first raised the issue of summer and holiday hunger with the council in September 2018.

Party colleague Cllr Beth Adger said as someone who had seconded the motion, she was “very disappointed” to not receive an invitation to the meeting and she “did not know it was on”.

She asked for the matter to be “looked into to see why she was not invited”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “In November 2020, the Executive announced that School Holiday Food Grants would continue until Easter 2022.

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“Decisions on how we tackle ‘holiday hunger’ from summer 2022 onwards have not yet been taken.

“Holiday hunger is not new and will require the combined efforts of Departments and other statutory partners, councils and the local community and voluntary sector to tackle this very serious problem.”

Ald Ashe commented: ” I am pleased to work with the Department on a pilot scheme in advance of their decision making process.

“I believe every child has the right to good nourishment 365 days of the year. I first brought this motion to council in 2018 and again in 2021 we are making progress slowly but will see this through to conclusion.”