The summer holidays can bring increased child poverty and even worsen the gap in educational standards between affluent and poorer areas, a new report has found.
The annual six-week break can mean more money worries for low income families in arranging childcare and even struggles to put food on the table, according to research by Glasgow University academics.
Poorer youngsters can also find themselves left out of "enriching activities" such as organised sports courses, summer playgroups, museum and other cultural trips and school holidays.
The academics behind the study have called for action to tackle the "national problem" of food insecurity which can leave many youngsters "malnourished" during the summer break, as well as improvements in childcare provision for the poorest families.
The report entitled The Cost of School Holidays for Children from Low Income Families, collates recent research which has been carried out and finds the issue has been "unexamined and neglected." "The summer holidays are often sentimentalized as a happy and carefree time for children, abound with new experiences and opportunities to play, relax, create memories, and develop essential social skills," it states.
"While this is true for many children, for some, the school holidays are a stressful and impoverished period of isolation, boredom, and inactivity. For low-income families, summer holidays often entail increased financial pressures, food insecurity, poor health, and exclusion from culturally enriching and healthful activities." The lack of educational and developmental opportunities enjoyed by more affluent children means that the long summer break may be one of the most fundamental contributors toward the attainment gap between richest and poorest children, accounting for almost two-thirds of the gap by the time children reach the age of 14.
Read more: One fifth of children in Scotland living in poverty
Professor Nicolas Watson, Institute of Health of Wellbeing Professor, University of Glasgow is calling for a system of social protection to be put in place to negate the impact of poverty during the summer holidays. This could be in the form of centres where children can take part in "enriching" activities in a safe environment with good quality childcare, where they are also fed.
“These children need help immediately,” said Professor Watson. “First and foremost, steps must be taken to address the national problem of food insecurity to ensure that children do not go hungry or become malnourished during the school holidays.
“Second, providing accessible, good quality childcare that meets the diverse needs of families is vital if children’s learning and wellbeing is to be supported, while enabling parents to pursue better paid and more secure employment." The group is also calling for further research to be carried out on the issue. Child Poverty Action Group reported the number of children living in poverty in the UK is now four million and that in-work poverty is the most prevalent form of child poverty with 67 per cent of poor children living in low income households. Nursery places cost 77 per cent more than they did in 2003 while earnings have remained largely unchanged.