Children going hungry as free school meals not offered to low-income families

Children are going hungry as free school meals are not offered to many whose parents are on a low income, a new study suggests.

A report for the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) indicated that even when youngsters receive free school meals, it might not be enough for their needs.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) studied low-income families in London and a South East seaside town, finding that around one in four children went hungry at times, despite sacrifices made by their parents.

Half of parents in the study did not eat enough food, skipped meals or used food banks, said the report.

Some children said there were restrictions on what was available for a free school meal, which could make them feel embarrassed.

Half of teenagers surveyed said they did not have money to spend on food with their friends.

CPAG chief executive Alison Garnham said: “The young people in this study make the case for universal free school meals more powerfully than anyone else could.

“Their hunger, their shame, their sense of being cut off from learning and social opportunities – all because parents can’t afford enough food – are appalling in a society that believes every child matters.

“Universal free school meals should be part of the solution, but wider Government action is needed to eradicate the poverty that underlies children’s hunger. As a minimum, free school meals should be restored for all families on Universal Credit.

“It is time to re-balance family budgets after years of austerity and rising child poverty. The priority should be lifting the freeze on working and non-working benefits so that they rise again with inflation.’

The report’s co-author, Rebecca O’Connell, said: “Food poverty and its effects on children’s and young people’s physical and emotional well-being is a matter of grave concern.

“In the face of piecemeal responses and Government neglect, the outlook is set to remain bleak. Radical change is needed.”

A Government spokesman said: “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this Government.

“Employment is at a record high, wages are outstripping inflation, and absolute poverty is lower than in 2010.

“We’re supporting over one million of the country’s most disadvantaged children through free school meals and we continue to spend £95 billion a year on working-age benefits to ensure every child has the best start in life.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “This country’s record on child poverty is truly shocking.

“A record 2.9 million children from working families in the UK are living in poverty after housing costs have been paid – 70% of all poor children were in working families last year.

“Children who are hungry cannot learn as well as they might be able to. Free school meals at least guarantee that children going hungry at home get one nutritious meal a day during term time.

“We have to do all that we can to extend that entitlement to every child that is going hungry, and we must fix the problems in society that cause families to fall in to the poverty trap.

“Currently one in 10 eligible children miss out on their free school meals entitlement.

“NAHT has long called for children to be automatically enrolled to receive free school meals, using the information councils already hold about their family situation.

“This would take away the barrier of stigma for parents.”

The research was carried out among 45 low-income families.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Chris Radburn / PA Wire.