Record number getting free school meals

More school pupils in South Tyneside are receiving free school meals than ever before, according to new figures.

Record number receive free school meals.
Record number receive free school meals.

Campaigners argue the Government should widen the eligibility criteria because of the cost-of-living crisis as Department for Education figures show 6,880 children in South Tyneside were eligible for free school meals in January – 30.2% of all pupils in the area.

This was up from 28.4% the year before, and the highest proportion since comparable records began in 2015-16.

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In England, 22.5% of pupils – around 1.9 million children- are currently eligible for free school meals – up from 20.8%, and also a record high.

The Association of School and College Leaders said it is "shocking" that one of the world's wealthiest economies saw such a steep rise in the number of youngsters on free school meals this year.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the ASCL, added: “Even more shocking is the fact that current eligibility does not even capture all the children who need help. Free school meal eligibility now applies to 22.5% of pupils, but we know that the level of child poverty is about 30%."

New research by the End Child Poverty Coalition reveals 29% of English children were living in relative poverty in 2020-21, though this was down from 30% the year before and first fall in a decade.

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The ECPC said it is likely due to Government measures during the pandemic, such as temporarily increasing universal credit by £20 a week.

A Government spokeswoman said it is providing more than £37bn to help families with rising costs, and will continue to keep eligibility under review.