Free school meals could soon be given to all children

Free school meals could soon be available to thousands more children, no matter what you earn, under proposed changes to support households.

On the back of soaring requests for food banks, the Mayor of London launched the figures from his food insecurity research.

It found that around 400,000 children have ‘very low food security’, whilst only 94,000 young children are currently entitled to free school meals.

According to the City Hall’s definition, food insecurity is when a person is, or risks being, without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

The findings show that hundreds of thousands of school children are going without appropriate nutrition at school and at home.

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In order to create a ‘zero-hunger city’ and tackle the problem, the London Assembly has approved a motion asking for Sadiq Khan to write to the Secretary of State for Education to make the case for universal free school meals, for all school pupils.

While food banks go some way to helping the problem, just 166,512 Londoners have received assistance from the Trussel Trust, which runs most of the capital's food banks, the charity said last year.

While praising the work of various voluntary organisations such as the Trussell Trust, Sustain, End Hunger UK and local food banks such as the Pecan food bank in Southwark, the Assembly members felt more had to be done to ensure children are appropriately fed.

Fiona Twycross AM, who proposed the motion said: "Food insecurity blights the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in our capital, with many forced to go into school hungry and under-nourished. In one of the richest cities in the world, this is simply unacceptable.

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The motion includes a reference to the chief operating officer of Food and Drink Federation claim: “The Government’s planned future relationship with the EU means that food prices may rise at the end of the year.”

While food banks and other charities do an extraordinary job at providing emergency food parcels to poverty-stricken families, it is obvious that they should not even need to exist.

"Many of the solutions to tackling food insecurity lie in the hands of the national Government.

“However, City Hall should also play its role and build the case for extending the provision for universal free school meals.”

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Free school meals are normally offered to those on low income support and state support. However, you could be losing out due to a loophole in the system.

A pupil-led investigation by schools, and charity Citizens UK last year found that pupils eligible for the benefit are losing out on £65million a year.

It found that in most cases, if the student on free school meals does not use their allowance by the end of the day – because they are absent from school, attending a lunchtime club or they don’t spend the full amount – their credit is deducted and retained by the company (private firm, school or local authority).

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Luke Bramhill works for Children North East and believes that this is ‘a national issue’.

He said: “From Brighton to Middlesbrough, from Manchester to Scunthorpe, Children North East has spoken to over 65,000 pupils in more than 180 schools across England.

“Across the country we were told about how the money allocated to the children on free school meals is take off them at the end of the day.”

The charity is now calling on the government to give this allowance back to help parents who are struggling to feed their kids when they get home.

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