More than 90,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to act to ensure all children in poverty get free school meals (FSM).
As many as 1.2 million school children living below the poverty line do not get FSM because they are either not entitled to them or their families do not claim the allowance.
A study last year by the Children’s Society found that 700,000 school children are not entitled to FSM under the current system. A further 500,000 are not claiming their entitlement for reasons including a fear of being stigmatised.
A family is defined as living in poverty if their household income is less than 60 per cent of the national median. In England, children are eligible to receive FSM if their parents receive certain benefits, such as income support.
However, the FSM criteria mean that single parents working 16 or more hours per week lose their entitlement to FSM, no matter how little they earn. The cut-off for couples is 24 hours a week.
The Children’s Society’s campaign – Fair and Square – is calling for the government to end this discrepancy and ensure that every one of the 2.2 million school children living in poverty get a free school meal.
Students aged 12 and 13 from Conisborough College in south London joined Ellen Broome, director of policy at the Children’s Society, and Becky Jarvis from campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, to hand in the petition at 10 Downing Street last week.
The planned introduction of Universal Credit will bring together different forms of income-related support for people in or out of work meaning that many of the current benefits used to assess who is entitled to FSM will be scrapped, including Income Support, Job Seekers’ Allowance, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.
The Children’s Society argues that the reforms give the government “a unique opportunity to extend FSM to all low-income working families, so that no child living in poverty misses out”.
For details of the campaign and petition, visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk/fairandsquare CAPTION: Fair and square: Students from Conisborough College with (left) Ellen Broome, director of policy at the Children’s Society and (right) Becky Jarvis, campaigns manager at 38 Degrees