William Eichler 17 February 2023

Over 200,000 children missing out on free school meals

Over 200,000 children missing out on free school meals image
Image: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com.

Local authority leaders have called for the introduction of an automated sign-up system in order to expand access to free school meals to an extra 215,000 children.

Under the current system, parents have to formally apply to their local authority or via their child’s academy school to get free school meals for their children.

The Local Government Association (LGA) estimates that 11% of eligible school children – equivalent to 215,000 pupils – are missing out under this system and argues that automatic enrolment would ensure they have access to at least one hot nutritious meal a day.

The LGA also urged the Government to extend eligibility to the estimated 800,000 children who live in poverty but who are not entitled to free school meals because their household’s income is just above the eligible £7,400 annual income threshold.

The association cited research that found that if eligibility was increased, for every £1 invested there could be a return of £1.38. This consists of saving on food costs for families, increased lifetime earnings due to improved educational attainment, and other savings to schools and the NHS due to reduced obesity rates.

Cllr Pete Marland, chairman of the LGA’s Resources Board, said: ‘Free school meals are a vital lifeline for families who are struggling to make ends meet, just as food prices continue to rise.

‘Food inflation is at its highest for almost half a century and this is hitting the poorest households hardest. The near-£500 annual saving for a family for each child on free school meals can make all the difference, now more so than ever before.

‘Encouraging those who are eligible to sign up and automating the process will help relieve this financial burden, freeing up family budgets and improving the next generation’s health, education and prospects.

‘The Government should see this as an investment in our children’s future, to help them and their families get through this cost of living crisis and come out of it stronger, healthier and more secure.’

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