The Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme is a government funded initiative which provides all eligible children across the top-tier authorities in England free, healthy meals, as well as a vast range of exciting and enriching activities. It is well recognised that school holidays can add extra pressure to families who are already struggling to make ends meet. Children from low-income families who are eligible for Free School Meals (FSMs) may face worries of holiday hunger as well as missing out on socialising with their friends for long periods of time. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, these struggles will only have been heightened for many families across the country, therefore highlighting the importance and need of the HAF programme.
This summer, researchers from FixOurFood, in collaboration with the Food Foundation, undertook an evaluation of the implementation of the summer 2021 programme, with a focus on delivery across Yorkshire. Local Authority areas we engaged with included York, North Lincolnshire, Bradford and Sheffield.
We collected data in various way. Local government documents were gathered and reviewed to explore what types of programmes were planned and how decisions were made. Researchers from the team volunteered at activities across the programmes, completing 104 hours of observations and engagement with parents in focus groups. We carried out 20 interviews to capture the views of HAF leads in local government as well as providers who delivered the programmes. And lastly, in collaboration with the Food Foundation we sent out a national survey to gather children’s views on issues including food insecurity and mental health.
FixOurFood researchers, along with colleagues from the Food Foundation, pulled together a report of preliminary key findings and key recommendations to support future funding decisions in advance of the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.
Our four key findings include:
- Provision was diverse across local authorities
- The meals served had a positive impact on food insecurity
- The benefits of attending the holiday clubs were felt both by children and their wider families
- Local Authorities stepped up to the challenge of the short turnaround time between the confirmed funding and provision delivery.
Our three key recommendations include:
- The government should commit to long-term funding of the HAF programme to enable local authorities to plan and build on the learnings gained this year
- Places on the programme should be available to all children, not just those in receipt of FSM, to reduce the stigma and continue to provide a lifeline to families regardless of FSM eligibility
- There should be continued provision of tasty and varied meals throughout all activities as part of the HAF programme
The FixOurFood would like to thank everyone involved in the collection of the research, in particular the Local Authorities, HAF activity providers, parents and children who we spoke with.
Dr Grace Gardner, Research Associate, FixOurFood