The Government must not end free school meals to children from migrant families

Sixty organisations and charities are calling on the Education Secretary to permanently extend free school meals to children from low-income migrant families, as part of an approach to ensuring that no child living in poverty misses out.[1]

Dear Secretary of State,

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the life of every child and young person in this country, but particularly children in low-income families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF). These families rely on their friends and relatives – who are often struggling themselves - charities and other services for much needed support, but many of these sources of help have been unavailable or simply overwhelmed during the crisis.

We applaud your department for taking the decision in April to extend free school meals to children in some NRPF families. This welcome change will have made a tangible difference to these families by providing a vital lifeline during an especially challenging period.  

We are, however, extremely concerned by the Government’s intention to stop providing free school meals to these children in the near future.

With its initial decision to extend free school meals, the Government made a positive step in recognising that the exclusion of families with NRPF from the welfare system means that they are especially vulnerable to crises and at a greatly increased risk of extreme poverty. This is nothing new; the COVID-19 pandemic simply exposed the precariousness of daily life for thousands of NRPF families, where the absence of a safety net leaves them only one crisis away from catastrophe.

No matter where the next few months lead us, this basic fact will not change. Meanwhile, the effects of this crisis will continue to be felt for years to come. While much effort is being made to ensure children do not fall behind, without access to free school meals many children in NRPF families will face having to make up for half a year of lost learning on empty stomachs, at a time when they may still be struggling to cope with the mental and emotional aftershocks of lockdown. 

The NRPF condition disproportionately impacts black and minority ethnic children, trapping them in poverty and curtailing their futures. We know that for many children their free school meal is the only healthy meal in their day – but the progress the Government has made by extending this vital lifeline to NRPF families will be lost unless you make this change permanent.

We ask that you urgently provide clarity to these families ahead of the return to school in September by confirming that they will continue to be eligible for free school meals – fully and permanently. Furthermore, the Government must review free school meals eligibility to include other categories of NRPF families, including undocumented children, who are especially vulnerable to destitution and exploitation.

We strongly support the recommendation of the recently published National Food Strategy – Part 1 to provide a ‘nutritional safety net’ for children in poor households, including by extending free school meals to all families on Universal Credit. However, the Government must ensure that children in poverty without recourse to public funds also have access to such meals, regardless of their parents’ immigration status.

The forthcoming school year will be hugely challenging for every child, but whether a child is able to eat and learn should not depend on their parents’ status. The Government must not allow any child living in poverty to fall behind at such a pivotal moment in their lives – now and in the future.

[1] See Recommendation 1, National Food Strategy:

List of signatories:   
Action for Children – Imran Hussain, Director of Policy and Campaigns

African Community School - Keith Hughes, Chair

Alexandra Rose Charity – Jonathan Pauling, CEO

Asylum Matters – Paul Hook, Project Director

Asylum Support and Immigration Resource Team - Dave Stamp, Senior Caseworker

Barnardo’s - Javed Khan, CEO

Bede Youth Adventure Project - Fokrul Meah, Senior Project Manager 

British Association of Social Workers – Dr Ruth Allen, CEO

Caritas Westminster – John Coleby, Director

Chefs in Schools – Naomi Duncan, Chief Executive

Citizens UK – James Blatchley-Asfa, Lead Organiser

City of Sanctuary UK – Sian Summers-Rees, Chief Officer

Children England – Kathy Evans, Chief Executive

Child Poverty Action Group – Alison Garnham, Chief Executive

De Beauvoir Association – Kate McFarlane, Chair

Entraide Mutual Aid - Felix Kupay, Chairperson

FareShare – Lindsay Boswell, Chief Executive

Feeding Britain - Andrew Forsey, Director

Food Inequalities Rebellion - Dr Sharon Noonan-Gunning

Greater London Authority – Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard, Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement

Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit - Denise McDowell, Chief Executive

Guy’s & St. Thomas’ Charity – Sarah Hickey, Childhood Obesity Programme Director

Hackney Migrant Centre – Daf Viney, Director of Services

Haringey Migrant Support Centre

Health Equalities Group – Matthew Philpott, Executive Director

Help Refugees – Josephine Naughton, CEO

Helen Bamber Foundation – Zoe Dexter, Welfare and Housing Manager

Independent Food Aid Network - Sabine Goodwin, Coordinator

Jesuit Refugee Service UK – Sarah Teather, Director

Jewish Council for Racial Equality - Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director

Latin American Women's Rights Service - Gisela Valle, Director

Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network – Rosario Guimba-Stewart, CEO

Leicester City of Sanctuary – Pete Hobson, Chair of Trustees

Made in Hackney - Sarah Bentley, Founder and Director

Magic Breakfast – Alysa Remtulla, Head of Policy and Campaigns

Mayor’s Fund for London – Clara Widdison, Head of Social Inclusion

Migrants at Work - Ake Achi, Founder and Director

Migrant Voice - Nazek Ramadan, Director

Migrant and Children’s Legal Unit - Lisa Payne, Senior Policy & Advocacy Officer

National Children’s Bureau – Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive

Newington Green Action Group - Cllr Jenny Kay, Secretary

Parents and Communities Together – Layla Meerlo, Community Organiser

Praxis – Bethan Lant, Casework, Training and Advocacy Manager

Project 17 - Abi Brunswick, Director

Refugee Council - Dr Lisa Doyle, Director of Advocacy

Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research – Dr Rhetta Moran, Chair of Trustees

Refugee Support Devon - Nelida Montes de Oca, Casework coordinator

School Food Matters – Stephanie Wood, Founder and CEO

Southall Black Sisters - Pragna Patel, Director

Step Up Migrant Women Campaign - Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez, Coordinator

the3million - Nicolas Hatton, CEO

Tees Valley of Sanctuary

The Children’s Society – Sam Royston, Director of Policy`

The Food Foundation - Anna Taylor, Executive Director

 The Unity Project - Caz Hattam, Project Coordinator

Together Southwark - Rt Revd Dr W. Karowei Dorgu, Chair & Bishop of Woolwich

UNISON – Leigh Powell, National Officer for Education and Children’s Services

University of Liverpool Law Clinic - Judith Carter, Lecturer and in-house Solicitor

Voices in Exile - Mel Steel, Director

West London Welcome Centre for Refugees and Migrants – Joanne MacInnes, Director

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