More than 35,000 pupils in the North East of England living below the poverty line don't qualify for free school meals under current legislation.
A new report, The Cost of Missing Lunchtime – a briefing on free school meals in the North East of England by Children North East, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the North East Child Poverty Commission (NECPC) reveals one in four children from the region's poorer families are not entitled to a free, nutritious daily meal at school.
- One in four (more than 35,000) North East children living below the UK poverty line are not eligible for free school meals under the current criteria.
- More than one in 10 (circa 13,000) North East children that are currently eligible don't take up this offer.
- Another 4,000 school children in the North East (that are not covered by universal infant free school meals) are in families with no recourse to public funds – many of whom will be living well below the poverty line but aren't usually eligible for means-tested free school meals.
The report makes a number of recommendations for government, local authorities and schools, the key ones being:
- The government must restore the previous free school meals eligibility threshold (in place prior to April 2018), which includes all families in receipt of Universal Credit. This should also be extended to all those on equivalent benefits. It also recommends making permanent the temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to some households with no recourse to public funds.
- Local authorities should review their free school meals policies, processes and practices to ensure they're maximising the number of families taking up their free school meal entitlement.
- Schools should work to identify and address any existing policies or practices that either prevent pupils taking up their free school meal entitlement or further disadvantage them.
To read the full report visit the North East Child Poverty Commission website.