Coping with hunger and poverty in 21st century Dunbartonshire – Education director Laura Mason and church workers from St Augustine’s Episcopal Church and St Patrick’s in Dumbarton.
By Bill Heaney
Shocking and deeply worrying figures have been released by West Dunbartonshire Council in relation to the Holiday Hunger programme for schools.
The use of foodbanks over the summer 2019 period has increased alarmingly from 576 users in summer 2018 to 775 in the summer holiday just past.
A strategic needs analysis conducted by the Health and Social Care Partnership – an arm’s length body attached to the council – has identified that 33% of our children and young people live in poverty with 27.4% of children in receipt of free school meals.
The SNP administration agreed to introduce the Holiday Hunger Fund to increase the provision of meals and social activities for school children over holiday periods.
And the Council committed £100,000 per annum, which is not to be reviewed until 2023, “to enable existing groups in our communities and new groups to apply for money from this fund to establish new provision in areas where there is unmet need”.
Officers were asked to bring an update report to the Educational Services Committee, informing how the fund had been administered and monitored and what its related impact has been on children, young people and the community.
Education chief Laura Mason was poised to tell councillors this week that the strategic needs analysis for West Dunbartonshire conducted by Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) has identified that 33% of local children and young people live in poverty with 27.4% of children in receipt of free school meals.
She added: “It is recognised that holiday periods add to the stress of poverty for families and result in less access to food and social activity for them than their peers. Foodbanks report increased demand during holiday periods.
“It has been noted that use of food banks over the summer 2019 period has increased from 576 users in summer 2018 to 775 in summer 2019.
“This can be attributed in part to the number of new users accessing Summer Brunch bags which have been provided with Holiday Hunger funding.”
A summer holiday programme which offered food and activity across the West Dunbartonshire resulted in 28 holiday projects of varying descriptions ranging from drop-in sessions for families in local churches which included packed lunches.
Families, Food and Futures Projects in Clydebank, Dumbarton and the Vale, to breakfast club sessions were provided each morning for 5-12 year olds in the Hub by Y-Sortit. These projects ensured a range of supports and activities for children and young people, aged from 4 to 17.
To ensure appropriateness of spend and scrutiny of projects, Officers visited all projects over the holiday period.
They monitored the value for money, the procedures in place, the numbers attending and spoke with children, young people and families to gauge impact of the Holiday Hunger programme.
Mrs Mason said: “Information gleaned [from this] will inform change and improvement as necessary.”
She added that all recipients of the service were required to assist with the reporting and evaluation of the projects by means of an impact statement – “Evaluation of these tells us that at the time of reporting, a total of 8094 children and 843 adult places were taken on free holiday activities with food integral to the projects.
“Included in this figure is 300 children and young people with significant additional support needs we supported to access activities with appropriate specialist supports.”
The education chief said to date a total of £75, 537 of the £100 000 allocated has been spent on Summer Holiday Hunger Projects to enhance existing projects by partners or develop new projects and that there are additional plans for spend in the October school holiday period.
Next steps include planning for school holidays in session 2019-2020, which will involve meeting a range of WDC and third sector partners to feed back and evaluate progress and learning so far and further coordinate offers and sessions “taking due cognisance of feedback from all stakeholders”.
For session 2019-2020, £75,537 has been spent on projects across the authority provided by a range of partners.
The remaining budget will enable partners to plan for projects in additional holiday periods over the autumn session.