When Thomas was eight years old, he was caught stealing formula milk for his baby brother. It was in the middle of a long hot summer in South London. His mother had given him £1 for the milk, but it wasn’t enough.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he says. “I went into Kwik Save. I realised I didn’t have enough money and that my mum didn’t have any more. Summer was always the worst. Too many mouths to feed, no school meals, no money. My heart was beating. I robbed a packet of SMA Gold.”
This week, in Scotland, I spoke to Lorraine, a 33-year-old single mother from Renfrewshire. This summer, she went to a foodbank for the first time in her life.
“I stood outside a long time,” she said. “I felt like such a scrounger.”
She told me her family could barely cope in term-time, but at least her six-year-old daughter Kelly got a hot lunch every day. “It’s not just the food,” she says. “You can’t afford to take them out so you’re at home with the electricity and gas building up. Most days I don’t eat in the evening at all.”
Many people think winter is the hardest time for UK families living in poverty, as extortionate fuel bills swallow the household budget. But for many living on the knife-edge of hunger, the long summer holidays are a tipping point. Free school meals, which provide over a million children with at least five hot lunches a week during term-time, are suddenly switched off on the last day of term.
Last week, a report from Kellogg’s and the Trussell Trust showed 40% of teachers believe pupils don’t eat enough during summer holidays – with many children noticeably thinner at the start of the autumn term.
“One in four children only get one hot meal a day – their school lunch,” says Carmel McConnell, who runs Magic Breakfast, a charity delivering free, healthy breakfasts to schools to reach 8,500 of the UK’s poorest children. Where do those children go in the holidays? I think this summer needs to be the last one where the answer to that is nowhere.”