Fair and square: free school meals for all children in poverty

School dinners should be a fundamental part of going to school for all children, shouldn't they?

As regular readers of this blog will know, it’s important to me to feed my family well but I don’t want to spend a fortune in the process. Quite simply, I can’t afford to. As a self-employed mother whose partner works as a teaching assistant, we don’t have a huge budget to spend on food.

However I still have considerably more money to spend on food than many families in the UK today.

According to the Children’s Society there are around 1.2 million children living in poverty in this fine land of ours who are probably not getting a single nutritious meal all day.

This statistic makes me feel sick to the core. How can we as a civilised society allow this to happen?

The Children’s Society has launched a campaign called Fair and Square, which aims to ensure that all children in need of a free school meal receive one. Free school meals are a crucial entitlement for families living in poverty, ensuring that children from the lowest income families get a least one warm and nutritious meal in the middle of the day.

When I was at primary school, I was a free school meals kid. I didn’t realise it at the time, but these meals were a real safety net.

Staggeringly, around a third of children in poverty are not entitled to free school meals (around 700,ooo children) because their parents are in paid work. Children of parents working 16 hours or more a week are not entitled to free school meals – regardless of how little their parents earn. This is shocking.

And another 500,000 children don’t take up their entitlement to free school meals. This can be for all kinds of reasons, including the quality of the meals themselves and issues around teasing and bullying.

I remember getting teased about being on free school meals when I was little. I found it so embarrassing. At the start of each week, our class teacher would call out our names and those who had to pay would take their dinner money up to him. When he got to my name, and the names of others in the same position, he’d announce “FREE” in the most derogatory of tones I’d want the ground to swallow me up. So I can see why people would rather avoid going through that public humiliation.

I am urging everyone I know and who reads this blog to get behind the Children’s Society Fair and Square campaign. Please join their call on government by signing their petition and spread the word any way you can to ensure that our poorest children get the free school meals they need to survive.

The problem is, this current situation could get worse under the new Universal Credit benefit system, which the government is introducing from 2013. Some families may be worse off if they take on more hours or get a pay rise as a result of the loss of free school meals. Analysis by the Children’s Society indicates this could affect 120,000 families with 350,000 school-aged children.

Sign the petition to ask the government to change the criteria for free school meals so all children in poverty get them. They’re much more likely to listen if they see how many people think the situation is unfair and needs to change. It only takes a couple of minutes and we all get behind the campaign this could add up to a big change for our poorest school children.

Giving children in poverty a free school meal makes sense on every level. They can help children stay healthy and learn. And they can help families escape the poverty trap faced by parents trying to move into employment by making sure that work always ‘pays’.

Free school meals on average are worth nearly £10 a week or about £370 a year. The prospect of losing this benefit creates a massive barrier for parents if they want to move into work or take on additional hours, particularly if they have more than one more child in school. (The Children’s Society ‘Fair and Square’ campaign report)

So once again, please do sign the petition and help spread the word. I am one of those kids who once needed free school meals, and I want to help make sure that the children today who need them are also given that right.

For more information about the Children’s Society’s Fair and Square campaign please visit http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/fairandsquare.

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One thought on “Fair and square: free school meals for all children in poverty

  1. An excellent blog, and thank you for sharing your thoughts – which deserve to be heard widely. One of my clients – a school catering company – offers free school meal students access to the complete menu range and they take great care to be as discrete as they can.

    All the best,

    Doug
    Best Words

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