Under proposed changes to support households, new rules could mean that every child (regardless of their parents’ income) could be entitled to free school meals.
To support families on low incomes who have resorted to food banks, new rules could mean that every child is entitled to free school meals.
Currently, under 94,000 young children are entitled to free school means. At this moment in time, it is only being offered to those who come from a disadvantaged background, whose families may be on Universal Credit or income support – but not typically tax credits.
Presently, government-funded schools are giving free school meals to those in reception and year two.
However, new research into food insecurity conducted by the Mayor of London found that 400,000 children have “very low food security.”
The definition behind ‘food insecurity’ is when a person or group of people are at risk of being denied a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
Right now, food banks are helping a great deal to make peoples’ lives easier. Trussell Trust, which runs the capital’s food bank, claim that 166,512 Londoners received assistance in 2019. One of three of those recipients were children.
These findings show that many children are going without the recommended nutrition that should be provided at both home and school.
The London Assembly want to tackle this urgent problem and create a “zero-hunger city”, and the motion has been approved to ask Sadiq Khan to jointly write to the Secretary State of Education, who will make the case for universal free school meals, for every child.
The motion that has been put forward includes a reference to the chief operating officer of the Food and Drinks Federation, who has claimed: “Government’s planned future relationship with the European Union means that food prices are likely to rise at the end of the year”.
Assembly members made sure to praise the work that has been produced by voluntary organisations such as Trussell Trust, Sustain, End Hunger UK and local food banks such as the Pecan food bank in Southwark. However, they feel that much more could be done to ensure that children are being properly fed.
Fiona Twycross AM, who proposed the motion stated: “Food insecurity blights the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in our capital, with many forced to go into school hungry and under-nourished. In one of the richest cities in the world, this is simply unacceptable.
“Foodbanks and other charities do an incredible job of providing emergency food parcels to those affected by food poverty, but the simple truth is they shouldn’t exist in the first place.
“Many of the solutions to tackling food insecurity lie in the hands of the national Government. However, City Hall should also play its role and build the case for extending the provision for universal free school meals.”
Typically, free school meals are only being offered to those who come from a low-income family and are in receipt of state support. Despite this, many families are still missing out because of loopholes within the system.
Pupil-led investigations have taken place through schools, and the charity Citizens UK have also found that pupils who are eligible for this benefit are missing out on £65 million a year because of unused allowances which are being retained by the meal providers.
The investigation uncovered that in many cases, students on free school meals were not using their full allowance within a day – because of absence from school, attending a lunchtime club, or they simply don’t spend the full amount. This has led to their credit being deducted and being retained by the company e.g. private firm, school or local authority.
Luke Bramhall, Children North East, said: “This is a national issue. From Brighton to Middlesbrough, from Manchester to Scunthorpe, Children North East has spoken to over 65,000 pupils in more than 180 schools across England as part of ‘Poverty Proofing the School Day’ which identifies barriers to equality of experience in education. Across the country we are told about how the money allocated to children on free school meals is taken off them at the end of the day- and that children are going without as a result.”
The charity is now encouraging the government to give this allowance back, as it could help parents who are struggling to feed their children at home too.
Kath Wade, at Tyne & Wear Citizens, said: “It’s simply not right that this is happening. All it requires is a simple change to an IT system to ensure the change from lunch goes to those pupils who need it most. A hungry child can’t concentrate, a child that can’t concentrate can’t learn, and a child that can’t learn can’t reach their full potential. And isn’t that what we all want?”