The government are being urged to help 1.45m hungry children to get free school meals and change the rules to help famlies who are struggling with the rising cost of living.
The government are being urged to expand the the eligibility criteria to children’s parents who are on Universal Credit as almost 2m children do not qualify to receive free school meals (FSM) and are going hungry.
The rules state that families who earn leass than £7,400 and are on Universal Credit can claim FSMs for their children.
Jenna Julius, senior economist at the National Foundation for Educational Research said the £7,400 threshold has not changed since 2018 in England.
Julius said, “While less well-off households who are currently not in receipt of FSM will increasingly feel the pinch of these increases in spending, it will not impact on their eligibility.”
The i reported that bills could rise by 6% in April and millions of households are already struggling with spiralling food costs and soaring energy bills.
Anne Longfield, who was Children’s Commissioner for England until 2021 warned, “Free school meals are a vital line of defence for children growing up in the poorest families.
“We are facing a cost of living crisis that risks pushing many more children into poverty, and rolling out FSM to all families in receipt of universal credit would make a huge difference to thousands of children.”
Azmina Siddique, policy and impact manager at The Children’s Society, said, “The Government should make free school meals available for every family with children aged 16 or under who needs support from universal credit to make ends meet.
“That would ensure another 1.5m children have a decent meal every school day.
“We know family budgets are coming under huge pressure and this would be a simple lever for the government to pull to ease the pressure and quite literally put food on the table for children.”
“We surveyed parents in September 2020 to find out the impact of food costs on families whose children aren’t eligible for free school meals.
“We found that one-in-seven parents who didn’t meet the low threshold for free school meals were struggling to afford food.”
Wayne Norrie, CEO of Greenwood Academies Trus who runs 36 academies in areas said he had seen “working families becoming increasingly poor.”
“We call them JAM families (just about managing), often working families who are on zero-hour contracts so are ineligible [for FSM]. Our food programme covers these families.”
Professor Donald Hirsch, a former poverty adviser who is a social policy expert at Loughborough University, said a “minimum acceptable standard of living” means “two parents would each need to earn over £17,000 a year, as well as being eligible for Universal Credit.”
He added, “But if the government does want to continue targeting worse-off families, it should consider extending this to any family on Universal Credit.
“This includes many working families, including some with medium incomes but high housing or childcare costs.
“Any family on universal credit is likely to face financial strain from the current cost of living pressures, and free lunches for their children would help reduce that strain.”
The government told the i, “We have expanded access to free school meals more than any other government in recent decades, extended our national breakfast clubs scheme to feed thousands of pupils, and our Holiday Activities and Food programme will continue supporting children during the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks for three years.
“Throughout the pandemic, schools provided free school meals to eligible pupils, including while they were learning remotely.
“Outside of term-time, we have also ensured vulnerable children and families can access welfare support through billions in investment, including the £500m Household Support Fund, to further support these families.”