More than one million children in poverty don’t get free meals

Written by: HTU | Published:

As many as 1.2 million school children who live in poverty are missing out on free school meals (FSM), research by the Children's Society has revealed.

As many as 1.2 million school children who live in poverty are missing out on free school meals (FSM), research by the Children's Society has revealed.

A policy study by the charity claims that 700,000 school children are not actually entitled to FSM under the current system even though they are living in poverty.A further 500,000 are not claiming their FSM entitlement for reasons including fear of bullying.

The Children's Society has now launched a campaign – Fair and Square – calling for the government to ensure that every one of the 2.2 million school children who are living in poverty in the country get a free school meal.

The campaign says that eligibility for FSM has serious ramifications for families in low-paid work and those looking to move back into work. The current criteria mean that single parents working 16 or more hours per week lose their entitlement to FSM. The cut-off for couples is 24 hours a week.

The Children's Society found that nearly half (45 per cent) of parents are worried about the financial implications of moving back into work or taking additional hours.

The campaign claims that the planned introduction of Universal Credit, which brings together different forms of income-related support for people in or out of work, means that many of the current benefits used to assess who is entitled to FSM will be scrapped – including Income Support, Job Seekers' Allowance, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit. A new system of entitlement is to be put in place in the next year.

The report says that the average cost of a primary school meal is £1.88, coming to around £360 a year – a figure which many parents working the 16 hours a week on the minimum wage would struggle with.

The report adds: “FSM can also lead to children being entitled to a number of other benefits – such as school clothing allowances, support with school trips, music lessons, and access to leisure centres. Families in low-paid work may therefore also not receive these other forms of support."

The Children's Society wants FSM entitlement to be extended to all children living in poverty, including low-income working families, by October. It wants the government to promote work incentives by extending the entitlement to school children in families in receipt of the new Universal Credit.

The policy report comes alongside the launch of a petition asking the government to make sure that all children living in poverty get FSM.

Elsewhere, the charity also calls for action on the 500,000 children who do not claim their entitlement to FSM. The report found that there is still stigma attached to claiming FSM with some parents reporting that their children had been bullied because of their FSM status. The charity wants to see more cashless or other “non-stigmatising" systems in schools.

Elaine Hindal, the charity's campaign for childhood director, said there was “no reasonable defence" for the failure to ensure all children in poverty get FSM. She added: “The government has a unique opportunity to extend FSM to all low-income working families, so that no child living in poverty misses out."

Children's minister Sarah Teather said: “We remain totally committed to continuing to provide FSM to children from the poorest families. We are reforming welfare to get more people into jobs as that is the surest way of cutting poverty.

“The reforms mean we will have to think hard about the best way to decide who is eligible for FSM so they continue to be targeted at those who need them the most. No plans have yet been set and we will be consulting later this year about the best way forward."

You can sign the Children Society's petition online and also find out more about the Fair and Square campaign.

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