Posted: 12 June 2013

4 v 95: Asylum-seeking children and families need free school meals

Free school meals are a vital benefit for disadvantaged families providing health and educational benefits for children, as well as helping to ease the strain on family budgets. However, some children in asylum-seeking families are missing out on free school meals. 

There are a range of benefits that provide a ‘passport’ to entitlement to free school meals - including income support and income-based jobseekers allowance. Children in families in receipt of these benefits are automatically entitled to free school meals. 

In addition, some children in asylum-seeking families are entitled to free school meals if they receive what is known as section 95 support from the Home Office. Section 95 also supports asylum seeking children and families who would otherwise be destitute. 

Hundreds of asylum-seeking children miss out

However, some asylum-seeking children supported by the Home Office are not entitled to free school meals as their family are receiving a different kind of support, known as ‘section 4’. Unlike section 95, this type of support does not provide automatic entitlement to free school meals. 

Families are placed on section 4 if their claim for asylum is refused but there is an obstacle that prevents them from leaving the UK – if it’s too dangerous for them to return or because they can’t get travel documents – and they would otherwise be destitute.

There are over 100 children aged between 5 and 17 years in families on section 4 support, and more than 600 who are younger than 5. Many families live on section 4 support for over two years.

While some schools recognise these children's needs and use their discretion to provide free school meals to them, the majority of asylum-seeking families are unlikely to benefit from this key support.

Findings from the parliamentary inquiry into asylum support

Earlier this year the cross-party parliamentary inquiry into asylum support for children and young people highlighted that section 4 support is entirely inadequate and is not designed with children’s welfare needs in mind.

The inquiry also found that found that families on asylum support struggle to afford nutritious food like fresh fruit and vegetables on a regular basis. 

A lone parent with one child aged 10 in receipt of section 4 support receives just £70.78 a week via a cashless payment card. This means surviving on just £5 a day for each member of the family.

Families have to use this money to buy food and other things they need, including packed lunches for their child, as they are not entitled to free school meals.

In comparison, the same family on section 95 support, where parents are also not allowed to work, would receive over £20 a week more*. An equivalent out of work family on mainstream benefits would receive considerably more still. In both cases, children in these families would also be entitled to free school meals.

Fair and Square

Our Fair and Square campaign calls for all children in poverty to receive free school meals. 

While the campaign is focused on the mainstream benefit system and children missing out on free school meals, we also believe it is vitally important that asylum-seeking children getting by on meagre section 4 support should receive free school meals.

These families are among the poorest members of our society, often having fled war, torture and violence. Ensuring they are provided with free school meals would make a significant difference to families’ severely restricted budgets.

*Both section 4 and section 95 provide accommodation and support. (Return to text.)

By Laura Rodrigues - Policy team

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