Sunday, August 28, 2022

Why stop at free school dinners?

 Hunger will be the “single biggest challenge” schools face as children return to classrooms in the coming weeks, according to the Child Poverty Action Group

Already, 800,000 children living in poverty in England do not qualify for free school meals sparking calls for the government to introduce universal free school meals to help tackle the crisis.  Headteachers are bracing for rising numbers from homes that cannot afford to feed them properly.

In England, all infant schoolchildren are entitled to free school meals from reception to year two, but beyond that only children whose parents earn less than £7,400 a year are eligible. But the rise in the price cap for the average gas and electricity bill to £3,549 a year from October will mean many who earn more than this will face a stark choice between food and heating.

Andy Jolley, a former school governor and campaigner for free school meals, said: “It’s incredibly difficult to become eligible for free school meals. A lot of people who have lost their jobs, who you would imagine must be eligible, just aren’t.” He added: “Registration isn’t automatic. Parents have to tell the school and then go through a complicated process to apply. Often because of barriers such as language or fear of stigma, families don’t claim.”

Paul Gosling, head of Exeter Road community primary school in Exmouth and who is president of the National Association of Head Teachers union, said “We will have far more children turning up to school hungry.” and adding that his school was worrying about how to afford to keep the lights on, “let alone helping families”.

Jonny Uttley, CEO of the Education Alliance academy trust, which runs seven schools in Hull and East Riding, said: “This food poverty is the single biggest challenge schools will face. More and more children will turn up to school hungry. It will go well beyond the definition of free school meals now.” He explained that “even before the horrific energy cap rises”, he was planning measures such as breakfast clubs and uniform vouchers because of rising poverty in his schools. But now “the potential scale of the problem is so much worse”.

Uttley believes the government needs to introduce universal free school meals because so many families will be in desperate need despite falling outside the government’s poverty threshold.

Richard Murphy, economic justice campaigner and professor of accounting at Sheffield University, said free school meals for all children in state schools was the only possible solution. “Within months we will be facing the worst economic crisis that anyone alive has witnessed,” he said. “The government must move rapidly and universally as the cost of not doing so is not just child poverty but child hunger, and that cannot be acceptable.”

Fears of widespread child hunger spark calls for universal free school meals in UK | UK cost of living crisis | The Guardian

No comments: