William Eichler 12 October 2020

Nearly one million children sign up for free school meals

Around 900,000 children have newly registered for free school meals this Autumn, according to the Food Foundation.

A sample survey conducted by Childwise revealed that 29% (equivalent to 2.2 million children) of children aged 8-17 are registered for Free School Meals, with 42% of these children (900,000) newly registered to the scheme.

Released as part of the joint #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign with the Manchester United player Marcus Rashford, the survey found that 64% of the newly registered children are from households where the main earners report being in higher income occupations compared to 36% from lower income occupations.

According to the Food Foundation, the increase in demand shows the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, with YouGov survey data gathered in August revealing that 32% of households with children have experienced a drop in income since late March.

A further 21% of children (over 1 million) aged 8-17, as well as 14% of parents with children not currently on the scheme, said they would like to receive Free School Meals. Eight percent of children (over 600,000) said they were worried about not having enough food for lunch at school this term.

Despite this major spike in demand, schools are struggling to provide hot lunches, with only 32% of all children aged 8-17 saying they were eating hot meals from the canteen, and 3% of children (180,000) saying they skipped lunch entirely.

Low uptake of school meals by children who pay is likely to also be hampering canteens getting back to normal with hot meal provision. Overall, 50% of children reported taking packed lunches and less than half (45%) of children reported that their canteens were running as usual with social distancing.

Anna Taylor, executive director of Food Foundation, commented: ‘A hot school lunch should provide vital sustenance for vulnerable children. Too many children are missing out because their families can’t afford it. Many more are missing out because canteens are not yet fully operational due to COVID-19.

‘Addressing both should be a top priority for the Government or the divide between children from wealthy and economically disadvantaged families will widen even further, leaving permanent impacts on children’s lives.’

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