ACCORDING to a new report due to be submitted to the United Nations human rights council in the coming weeks, poverty in the UK is not just an injustice and social calamity but also a “political choice” made by the current Westminster Government.

Here in Glasgow, it is the political choice of the City Government to do all within our means to challenge poverty. We face generational poor health and deprivation, the impact of austerity and Universal Credit roll out and the incoming effect of Brexit. But it is our role in local government to help protect our citizens from this misery and begin to make inroads into improving the health and well-being of our communities.

Just over a year ago my colleague, City Treasurer Allan Gow, announced the decision that the City Government would make tackling food poverty one of its first key priorities, with a scheme to fight ‘holiday hunger’.

We were aware that for thousands of families across our city school holidays too often mean financial stress, hunger and even malnourishment with no free school meals available.

The evidence from teachers is that more and more children return from school holidays suffering from poor nutrition which negatively impacts on their education.

In February, Allan announced that in our first ever budget the City Government would be setting aside £2million to address holiday hunger. (Incidentally, £2m is the figure the UK Government set aside for holiday hunger for all of England.)

Underpinning our approach was the need to avoid children or their families feeling stigmatised, ensuring that healthy free holiday lunches were offered as part of a wider package of holiday activities and not simply as part of a feeding programme.

And in keeping with our overall approach we provided the resources for the programme but ensured it was delivered by groups with deep and real community connections, organisations from the Third Sector, churches, housing associations, those bodies who best know and understand the local needs.

We have recently had the evaluation of the programme completed. And while children in this city, in 2018, should never go hungry, the outcomes of the programme were hugely uplifting.

In total, we fed more than 14,500 children during the seven-week, school summer holidays, serving 131,508 healthy meals and snacks. The programme was also run successfully over the October week holiday, where around 6000 children benefitted.

One of the most pleasing comments was how there was “a feeling of communities coming together, barriers being broken down and children, young people and their families integrating with others when normally some would be socially isolated”.

Parents said children got to meet new people, socialise, build confidence and self-esteem, with many seeing changes that could lead to benefits in the classroom. There are fun, games, opportunities to learn about cooking and nutrition and, crucially, there is no stigmatisation.

An NHS evaluation also found the holiday food programme reduced the risk of children going without food during the school holidays and helped lessen the worries parents and carers have about feeding their children over the holiday period.

Along with colleagues, Cllrs Mandy Morgan and Ruairi Kelly, both of whom represent the North East of the city,

I shared the findings with the UN’s special rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston, when he visited the City Chambers.

Amid ongoing austerity, it will always be a challenge to resource programmes such as these. But work is already progressing to make funds available for the mid-term holidays in February and then next Easter.

Most people I know who have entered politics, regardless of their political affiliations, have done to make a difference to the communities they represent. Too many in our communities though continue to struggle.

Welfare reform, austerity, generational deprivation, are contributing to mounting poverty, even people who are in work struggle more and more. It may be the political choice of many in Westminster to allow this grim situation to thrive. But In Glasgow we have had and will continue to make different choices.