In the News
Sociology in the News: Fears of widespread child hunger spark calls for universal free school meals in UK
Teachers and charities say free meals needed for all state pupils as 800,000 children in poverty do not qualify, stating that hunger will be the “single biggest challenge” schools face as children return to classrooms in the coming weeks.
Pressure is on the government to introduce universal free school meals to help tackle the crisis. Already, 800,000 children living in poverty in England do not qualify for free school meals, according to the Child Poverty Action Group, and now headteachers are bracing for rising numbers from homes that cannot afford to feed them properly.
Jonny Uttley, CEO of the Education Alliance academy trust 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 added 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”.
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. Charities are angry that the threshold for free school meals has not changed since 2018, despite soaring inflation.
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.”
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