7/12 Update – New CPAG, JRF and Save The Children Data, and SNP extend commitment to Free School Meals to all primary school students
Child Poverty Action Group released new data last week showing than at least 2 in 5 school-age children (1.3 million) who live below the poverty line are not currently entitled to Free School Meals. They do not qualify due to the income threshold being too low (in England, Scotland and Wales it is £7,400; in Ireland it is £14,000). They also estimate a further 100,000 children across the UK do not qualify due to having no recourse to public funds. Extending the number of children eligible for Free School Meals is one of the three National Food Strategy recommendations that we have been campaigning for alongside Marcus Rashford’s Child Food Poverty Task Force.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) have pledged in their Manifesto to provide Free School Meals for all primary school pupils, covering not only lunch but also breakfast. Currently Universal Infant Free School Meals (lunch) are provided to all children in primary 1 to 3, as is the case in England, but this new pledge will extend this provision to the other 4 years as well. They have also recognised that “hunger doesn’t take a holiday” and so Free School Meals will also cover the holiday period.
Save the Children have conducted a survey revealing that 37% of families on Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit will rely on charity food parcels or meals over Christmas. 60% of families on these benefits have reported that they will go into debt over the Christmas period. 65% have said they will cut down on essential like food and heating to cover the costs of Christmas.
A new report by the Joseph Roundtree Foundation has found that even before the Covid-19 pandemic, 2.4 million people experienced destitution, including 550,000 children. This was an increase of over 50% in 2 years. Destitution means the household cannot afford two or more of the essentials needed to live such as food, shelter, heating and clothing. They also conducted interviews with people experiencing destitution and found that during the pandemic people were not able to access food banks due to referral agencies such as Job Centres not operating in the usual way.
The National Audit Office have published an investigation into the Department for Education’s Free School Meal voucher scheme that ran during the Covid-19 school closures. The report highlights many of the issues that parents faced in accessing the scheme, including lengthy delays and invalid voucher codes, but also notes that action was taken to improve the scheme’s capacity and performance. DfE do not know exactly how many children benefited from the scheme but it is estimated to be around 850,000 to 900,000 children. They also do not know what profit Edenred (the company delivering the scheme) made from the scheme.