Posted: 18 April 2013

Missing free school meals and so much more

This week, Sir Nick Harvey MP held a parliamentary debate on free school meals and the pupil premium. 

Drawing on our figures, Nick Harvey raised his concerns that an estimated 1400 children living in poverty in his constituency were missing out on free school meals. 

He highlighted that across England we estimate there are 1.2 million children living in poverty missing out on free school meals. As a consequence, many of these children also miss out on other important support too – for example the pupil premium.

How are free school meals and the pupil premium related?

The pupil premium is extra funding to schools to support disadvantaged pupils and to close the attainment gap between them and their peers. The vast majority of the money is distributed on the basis of the number of children registered for free school meals in the last six years.

While it’s great that the government is trying to target funding to children and families that need it, free school meals aren’t an accurate reflection of the levels of poverty in an area. 

Why free school meals aren’t an accurate reflection of poverty

Free school meals only target families who are out of work, or working a very small number of hours. Yet around 6 in ten children in poverty are in working families.  

Children are not entitled to receive free school meals if their parents work 16 or more hours per week (for single parents) or 24 hours or more per week (for couples). This applies no matter how little they earn, how many children are in the family, or those children’s needs. 

We believe that as a result of this around 700,000 children in poverty are not even entitled to receive a free school meal – normally simply because their parents are working.

Furthermore, there are thousands of children living in severe poverty who because of their immigration status may not be eligible for free school meals. For example British children whose parents are from abroad or children on some types of asylum support can be excluded from free school meal entitlement. 

Now is the time to act 

As Nick Harvey said in the debate yesterday: 'Happily, the coming of universal credit gives the government an opportunity to reform the system.'

We agree completely. The new universal credit benefits system - beginning this October - provides a unique opportunity for the government to make sure all children living in poverty can benefit from free school meals.

We are calling for free school meals entitlement to be extended to all children in families in receipt of universal credit. 

We estimate that free school meals already lift 140,000 children out of poverty every year. If the government extends entitlement to free school meals to all families receiving universal credit (which would include lower income working families), a further 100,000 children would be lifted out of poverty. 

Let’s make it fair and square

Debates such as the one in parliament yesterday help continue to raise the importance of this issue with the government and MPs.

We need your help – support our Fair and Square campaign to ensure all children in poverty receive a free school meal.

Please join in today - use our interactive map to find out the number of children missing out free school meals in your area then tell your MP to help ensure all children in poverty receive a free school meal.

By Michaela Neild - Policy team

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