A mum-of-five has revealed she sometimes went without a main meal during the summer in order to feed her children.
Chele, from Belfast, has opened up about how her family struggled to make ends meet during the school holidays this year.
The working mum’s eldest child, Dylan, has complex needs because of his ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and eating disorder.
She said the break from school put the family under “considerable financial strain” and she often had a “bowl of cereal” instead of dinner, Belfast Live reports.
Chele said: “The summer holidays put us under considerable financial strain, because we’ve got to feed five children who usually have free school meals and find activities for them to do.
“In the winter we prepare full fresh meals, casseroles, pots of stews, but over the summer we just can’t afford to, so they have to eat lower quality food like pizza and frozen chips because it’s cheap.
“Dylan, our eldest has complex issues with food, so even though he’s a large child who is definitely well fed, he might take extra food from the cupboards and hide it for eating.
“Due to his condition, he will take food that’s unsuitable, such as raw meat, and try and eat it, which means it gets wasted.
“We’ll take the shopping to our bedroom at night to stop him doing this, or shop every day for fresh food – but that can be more expensive. “
A new survey from UK children’s charity Family Fund has found that 79% of parents and carers in Northern Ireland have struggled to afford healthy food for their disabled or seriously ill children in the last year, with almost half (46%) reporting missing a meal in order to feed their children instead.
Chele added: “At times this summer, there wasn’t enough to go around, so I had a bowl of cereal in place of a meal for dinner so the children didn’t go without.
“We receive Disability Living Allowance and Carer’s Allowance, but money is still very tight.
“You make the best of things whatever your children’s needs are, but the summer holidays are a lot harder for families raising disabled children than people might realise.”
The survey highlighted the eight-week school summer holiday period as a pinch point for low-income families, the majority of whom (70%) reported receiving free school meals during term time.
The findings have been shared with the All Party Group on Children and Young People as part of Children in Northern Ireland’s work to help develop policy recommendations to prevent holiday hunger.
Steven Agnew MLA, Leader of the Green Party and Chair of the All Party Assembly Group on Children and Young People said: “It’s extremely worrying that families and parents are struggling to afford healthy meals during school summer holidays.
“It’s even more disturbing that many of these families include a child with a disability – for these children a nutritious and balanced diet is critical to overall health and wellbeing.
“We need to protect the most vulnerable in society and provide extra support for those that may need it from time to time in their lives. The devolved institutions must be restored so that we can finally implement the Child Poverty Strategy.”
Ross McCrea, Partnership Manager in Northern Ireland for Family Fund, said: “We know that raising a disabled child costs around three times more than raising a child with no additional needs.
“When you add to this the increased cost of meeting complex dietary needs which many disabled or seriously ill children have, you begin to understand why almost half the parents we contacted are missing meals in order to feed their children, and why the summer holidays pose a threat to families’ health and wellbeing.
“Family Fund has submitted these findings to the Northern Ireland Assembly APAG on Children and Young People, which, along with other evidence, we hope gives rise to meaningful policy responses on Holiday Hunger to better support families on low incomes raising disabled children.”