A new food strategy published by the government today has been described as a “monumental letdown” for North East families by regional child poverty campaigners. Anna Turley, Chair of the North East Child Poverty Commission says that families need support now, not empty promises.
Ahead of the government’s plan being published, the North East Child Poverty Commission joined forces earlier this year with Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), Children North East, and Schools North East to urge the Government to use it as an opportunity to expand the reach of free school meals (FSM) to all children in families receiving Universal Credit or equivalent benefits – and to ensure that all eligible pupils are automatically registered to receive this support.
One in four pupils living below poverty line
Previous analysis undertaken by the North East Child Poverty Commission in partnership with CPAG and Children North East has estimated that up to one in four pupils living below the poverty line in the region are not eligible to receive free school meals because the current threshold – which hasn’t changed since 2018 – is far too low. More recent calculations by CPAG estimate that as many as 800,000 pupils living below the poverty line across England are missing out on free school meals.
The current eligibility criteria mean that tens of thousands of pupils growing up in poverty in the North East – mainly from low-paid working families – are missing out on support to receive a hot, balanced meal each day at school.
However, the government’s long-awaited new food strategy has merely pledged “to keep free school meal eligibility under review”.
A “monumental letdown”
Chair of the North East Child Poverty Commission, Anna Turley, said:
“Today’s new food plan is a monumental letdown for families across the North East.
“There is overwhelming evidence that the current free school meal system in England is failing to even support all children living in poverty, and yet the government has completely flunked a golden opportunity to put that right.
“It just isn’t good enough to promise to keep the threshold under review. Ministers should be doing that as a matter of course – and struggling families in our region don’t need empty promises, they need support now.
“Expanding the reach of free school meals would make a massive difference to thousands of North East families, and the government must rectify this glaring omission from its plan.”