Child Poverty & Education

Fixing Lunch

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The case for expanding free school meals (FSM)

A new report by CPAG and Covid Realities

Child Poverty Action Group press release for GM Poverty ActionThe Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Covid Realties have released a new report, Fixing Lunch: The case for expanding free school meals. The report brings together findings from CPAG analysis and the Covid Realities research programme to highlight problems with existing FSM provision. It also draws on research carried out as part of CPAG and Children North East’s UK Cost of the School Day project.

Despite a rise in the number of children claiming FSMs between March 2020 and March 2021, there are still one million school-aged children in poverty who miss out on any form of FSM provision because of restrictive eligibility criteria. The proportion of children in poverty not getting free school meals varies a lot across the 4 nations, and is highest in Wales and England (where 42% and 37% of children in poverty miss out on free meals respectively). Rates are much lower in Scotland (17%) and Northern Ireland (22%).

Key recommendations, developed with Covid Realities participants, are:

•   Work towards the long-term goal of universal provision of FSM for all children across the UK.
•   In the short term, increase eligibility to every family on Universal Credit (or equivalent benefits).
•   Eligibility should also be extended to all families with no recourse to public funds.
•   Follow the Scottish Government’s lead, extend free school meals to all primary school children across the UK.
•   Support family finances throughout the year by addressing the inadequacy of the social security system.
•  As a first step, the planned £20 cut to universal credit must be abandoned.Covid Realities logo for GM Poverty Action


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Extended school provision

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By David Bradley, Child Poverty Action Group

Child Poverty Action Group press release for GM Poverty ActionSchools have a unique place within their communities. With an extended school day, schools can and do support children’s development and learning, support mental health and wellbeing, mitigate the effects of child poverty, and help prevent poverty by supporting parents to work. These activities have always been a valuable part of school life, but there is an even greater need now to support schools to deliver these services as the pandemic continues to affect the learning of children and the financial circumstances of families. Crucially, the government must provide schools with dedicated funding and a clear long-term vision for delivering these services. Read our briefing on extended schools provision

CPAG is calling on the government to:

  • Provide a statutory framework and strategy with adequate additional, ring-fenced funding so schools in England can provide programmes, activities and services that go beyond the core function of classroom education.
  • Ensure every school has the funding and resources to provide comprehensive before- and after-school care, and holiday provision which is suitable for its pupils and families.
  • Ensure every school can provide additional services that support families in their community with their wider needs eg, dedicated mental health and wellbeing practitioners, and welfare rights advisers.

CPAG estimates that it would cost the government £2.6 billion a year to fund every primary school, and £525 million a year to fund every secondary school in England to deliver core extended schools activities, and an additional £500 million to provide mental health practitioners and family support workers. We estimate that it would cost £10 million a year to fund an extended schools coordinator in each local authority across England.

Find out more about the Child Poverty Action Group and this campaign here


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New End Child Poverty statistics

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New local child poverty figures show worrying trends

By Graham Whitham, CEO GMPA

Last week the End Child Poverty Coalition released new analysis showing child poverty rates across the UK by local authority area over the six years leading up to the pandemic. Even before the economy was hit by the pandemic, child poverty was becoming more entrenched in areas with already high levels of poverty and deprivation.

Of particular concern is the increase in child poverty in the North East, with the largest increases in child poverty between 2015/16 and 2019/20 happening in Newcastle upon Tyne (up 12.8%), Gateshead (up 11.2%), Redcar and Cleveland (up 10.6%) and County Durham (up 10.5%).

Whilst the increases in Greater Manchester haven’t been as sharp as in parts of the North East, there have been significant increases in Manchester (up 6.4%), Oldham (up 5.1%) and Bolton (4.1%). Across Greater Manchester as a whole, only one of our ten boroughs (Trafford) saw child poverty fall over this period – as shown in the table
below:End Child Poverty 2021 table

Nationally, the highest rates of child poverty remain concentrated in large conurbations like London and Birmingham.

In response to these concerning figures, the End Child Poverty Coalition is calling on the UK Government to recognise the scale of the problem and its impact on children’s lives and to create a credible plan to end child poverty which must include a commitment to increase child benefits. Given the extent to which families are already struggling, the planned £20 per week cut to Universal Credit in October 2021 should be revoked. The support should also be extended to those still receiving financial assistance from the old benefit system, referred to as ‘legacy benefits’, before they are switched to Universal Credit.

End Child Poverty infographic 2021

To read the full report please visit the End Child Poverty Coalition website.

GMPA is a member of the End Child Poverty Coalition steering group.


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Cost of learning in lockdown

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March 2021 update

By David Bradley, England Development Manager (Cost of the School Day), Child Poverty Action Group

For the majority of children and young people up and down the country, school doorsChild Poverty Action Group press release for GM Poverty Action closed once more in January after just one day back in the classroom. Families were faced both with the prospect of home schooling children and with the challenges this presented for their household finances. As with the first school closures last year, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Children North East (CNE) wanted to hear directly from parents, carers, children and young people about what home learning was like for them. While the findings provide a snapshot of life in January and February 2021, the insights remain critical in helping us to understand how we can recover from the impact of the pandemic.Children Noeth East logo for GM Poverty Action

Parents and carers told us that they were struggling financially going into this lockdown and subsequently faced increasing costs and pressures which, despite their best efforts, have affected their children’s experiences of learning during lockdown. Many low-income families faced the impossible choice of prioritising who gets access to scarce resources like laptops, bandwidth and one-to-one supervision. 35 per cent of low income families, who responded to our survey, were still missing essential resources for learning and children in receipt of free school meals were more likely to report sharing devices at home and using mobile phones to complete schoolwork.

In spite of these challenges, we heard about the extraordinary lengths that parents and carers were going to in order to help their children continue learning. We heard of mums waking up early to write out worksheets by hand and parents walking to school every day to pick up work packs. Families described how school staff worked tirelessly to deliver the best possible education in the circumstances, going above and beyond to try and bridge the gaps in resources where they could. This included lending out laptops, delivering printouts, supplying stationery and adjusting teaching to help all learners join in. Local councils also played an important role in getting additional support and resources to schools and families.

It’s clear from the findings that many families need greater financial security to help them support children’s learning, stay afloat and recover from the impact of the pandemic. As pupils ease back in to school, we need to recognise the role that family income plays in a child’s education and shape our responses accordingly. Families described facing difficult decisions around home learning because they didn’t have everything they needed to support their children. This ‘permanent battle’ caused stress and guilt for parents and often left less time to focus on learning. Any education recovery plan should place an emphasis on anti-poverty interventions in schools such as expanding the eligibility for free school meals to boost family finances and implementing extended schools provisions, to focus on pupil’s mental health and wellbeing and support parents in to work.

The challenges and inequalities faced by low income families may have been made more acute by the pandemic, but they existed before COVID-19 and they’ll continue to exist in our education system long after the crisis unless the government, local authorities, and schools work together to implement poverty aware policies and practices. During the autumn term, many schools worked hard to relieve cost pressures on families. For example, families told us that relaxed uniform policies had helped ease pressure on household budgets, allowing greater flexibility on where items could be purchased. Lots of schools had helped to provide additional items, such as extra stationery, face masks and pencil cases that were required to help keep people safe from the spread of Covid-19. However, the majority of families told us that they hadn’t been supported in this way and many said that school costs had risen compared to previous years.

David Bradley, CPAG for GM Poverty Action

David Bradley, England Development Manager (Cost of the School Day), Child Poverty Action Group

Through being poverty-aware and considering how policies and practices may impact households on a low income, schools and local authorities can continue to play an important role in relieving pressures on families, removing poverty-related stigma and helping to ensure children have everything they need to take part in education whether at school or at home.

You can find more information on how to achieve this through our Cost of the School Day project here


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Action for Children: The fight goes on over Universal Credit uplift

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Last week’s Budget announcement that Universal Credit will be cut by £20 a week in October is a setback for families. Imran Hussain, Director of Policy & Campaigns at Action for Children outlines why this choice hurts children – and how the decision could still be reversed.

The Budget announcement that Universal Credit will be cut by £20 a week in October is a setback for families – it is estimated that 2.5 million families with children currently on Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit will miss out on a combined total of £1.3 billion this year.

Here are five reasons why taking more than £500 in the next financial year (£1000 a year afterwards) from low income families will hurt families with children:

  1. It would mean turning back to benefit levels that are low historically and internationally – UK unemployment benefits are the weakest in the OECD, after a decade of cuts that have hit in-work and out-of-work benefits.
  2. Cutting Universal Credit will see child poverty – already high – rising sharply in the next few years, according to the Resolution Foundation. The only year expected to show a fall in child poverty will be 2020-21, the year of the increased Universal Credit rate.
  3. Even with the £20 increase, many families Action for Children works with have struggled financially. Making the families we work with £1000 a year worse off is going to damage childhoods and life chances.
  4. Nor does stripping back support later this year make sense when we know unemployment is not going to return to pre-pandemic levels for some time. Last week the Office for Budget Responsibility said higher unemployment will be with us for some time.
  5. That’s unemployment; but there are also many families who are seeing – or will see in the next couple of years – significant cuts to their pay and hours. Cuts to Universal Credit hits the low paid, not just those out of work.

But there is good reason to believe the battle is not over, that the Government could end up deciding that it won’t cut Universal Credit:

  1. The strength of the campaign pushed the Government further than it wanted. Action for Children’s report on its Emergency Fundwas among the first to argue against the cut, but many others, not just those working on poverty issues, have also made the case. And we know that GMPA has been adding its voice to this campaign.
  2. There’s also concern within the ranks of the Government’s own MPs. In January 2021, the Government was so worried about a rebellion on the issue it ordered its MPs to abstain on a vote on extending the uplift.
  3. Tim Pitt,a former adviser to ex Chancellor Philip Hammond, argues that the Government should strengthen the safety net because its voting coalition is now so different than in the past. Cutting Universal Credit is pain that would be felt by those in ‘Red Wall’ seats which formed the bedrock of its majority.
  4. Crucially, public opinion on benefit levels is changing, with more people now agreeing that benefit levels are low.
  5. Fundamentally, the pandemic has revealed that our support for the low paid and for those who lose their jobs is simply not good enough. It’s self-evidently a view the Government accepted when it increased Universal Credit.
Imran Hussain for GM Poverty Action

Imran Hussain

Money matters for childhoods, life chances and the fight against poverty. That’s what the research shows and what anyone working with families knows.

So, it is encouraging in the sense that the battle is not over and there’s growing recognition in politics and society that we need to strengthen social security support.

A longer version of this article is available on the Action for Children website.



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Cost of learning in lockdown survey

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Cost of Learning in Lockdown Survey

Child Poverty Action Group press release for GM Poverty ActionBuilding on the Cost of Learning in Lockdown report in June 2020 and as part of the Cost of the School Day project, CPAG would like to hear from children, young people, and families across England about their experiences of the first term back in school and the Christmas period. This research would be an opportunity to hear from families and children about what has worked well for them so that CPAG can champion the successes of schools and share best practice across the sector, but also help them to understand where there are gaps, and the impact these gaps have had on families living in poverty.

The surveys can be accessed here.

Areas of focus:

  1. The school day
    •  Additional costs for families associated with this academic year
    •  Additional support provided by school (or local authority) as part of the response to the pandemic (e.g. tutoring or catch up lessons)
  2. Homeworking (for those pupils who have had to isolate)
    •  Understanding whether families have the resources they need at home and what support is being provided, and whether this has improved since school closures in March
    •  What FSM provision has worked best for isolating families
  3. Financial & holiday support
    •  Levels of concern about finances and the reasons why (e.g. increased bills)
    •  Available holiday support and how well that works for families (e.g. Covid Winter Grant Scheme)


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Child poverty rising sharply

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Child poverty rising sharply in the North and Midlands

By Graham Whitham

New research published this week by End Child Poverty finds that child poverty has risen most sharply in parts of the Midlands and Northern towns and cities in the past four years.

The research looks specifically at child poverty rates after housing costs are taken into account. Measuring poverty in this way often highlights the impact high housing costs have on household income, with many of the areas with the highest after housing cost poverty rates not surprisingly being in London. However, over the five years leading up to 2018/19, rents in other parts of the country have risen by the same amount as in the capital. This is acting to drive up poverty rates in places across the North. Increasingly this means that families are finding that, once their housing costs are paid, they do not have enough money to meet their children’s needs and are left no option but to turn to crisis help, like food banks, and are increasingly reliant on free school meals.

Manchester and Oldham are among the areas that have seen the highest increases in child poverty rates after housing costs in the country. The table below shows the child poverty rates in each of Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs in 2014/15 and 2018/19, and the increase between those years. Child poverty increased in all but one Greater Manchester borough during that period. The areas in our city region with the lowest child poverty rates in 2014/15 either saw relatively small increases in the five years up to 2018/19 (Stockport seeing an increase of 0.2% and Wigan an increase of 1.7%), or a decrease (Trafford seeing a fall of 0.9%). In contrast, Manchester had the highest child poverty rate in Greater Manchester in both 2014/15 and 2018/19 and saw the second highest increase over this period (7%).

Local authority Child poverty (measured after housing costs) rate in 2014/15 Child poverty rate in 2018/19 Percentage point change (2015-19)
Bolton 32.7% 39.0% 6.3%
Bury 30.9% 33.8% 2.9%
Manchester 33.6% 40.6% 7.0%
Oldham 31.8% 39.9% 8.1%
Rochdale 32.4% 37.7% 5.3%
Salford 32.5% 34.8% 2.3%
Stockport 25.7% 25.9% 0.2%
Tameside 31.4% 34.8% 3.4%
Trafford 24.0% 23.1% -0.9%
Wigan 29.1% 30.8% 1.7%


These difference are largely explained by variations in wage growth and housing costs. They also illustrate concerns that government policies that are acting to drive up poverty (e.g. cuts and reforms to benefits) are driving up poverty in already disadvantaged areas.

In response to the research, End Child Poverty is calling for a government strategy for tackling child poverty. GMPA is supporting this call, and the following asks:

•  Uprating of housing assistance in line with inflation;

•  Retain the £20 uplift in Universal Credit introduced at the start of the pandemic, which the Government has indicated will end in April 2021;

•  End the benefit cap and the two-child limit on benefits;

GMPA Director Graham Whitham for GM Poverty Action

Graham Whitham, GMPA Director

•  Invest in all children with an increase to child benefit;

•  Extend Free School Meals to all families in receipt of Universal Credit and those with No Recourse to Public Funds.

You can read the full report and download the data from the End Child Poverty website.

GMPA is a steering group member of End Child Poverty.


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Focusing on the causes of poverty

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End Child Poverty Campaign, Marcus Rashford and focusing on the causes of poverty

By Graham Whitham

The End Child Poverty Campaign (ECP), of which GMPA is a steering group member, has written to Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford to congratulate him on drawing attention to the problem of food poverty among families with children. Marcus is backing calls in the National Food Strategy for expansion of free school meals to every child from a household on Universal Credit or equivalent legacy benefit, expanding the school holiday food and activities programme and increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers.

It’s brilliant that Marcus has been able to generate such positive coverage for the issue of child food poverty and we fully support his call for an extension of free school meals to all children whose families are in receipt of Universal Credit. However, it is important that we don’t see food provision as a solution to poverty, whether that be poverty effecting children or other groups of the population.

It is imperative that the Government puts tackling child poverty at the heart of its post-pandemic economic recovery if we are to see an end to families having to rely on food handouts and vouchers to feed their children.

That is why GMPA supports ECP’s call for Government to set out a comprehensive and ambitious child poverty strategy that looks not just at ensuring children have enough to eat, but tackling the causes of low income and the reason families can’t afford adequate food in the first place. This would include strengthening the social security system by increasing child benefit by £10 a week; and ending the benefit cap, the two-child limit and the five week wait for Universal Credit. As well as taking action to ensure that companies pay a real living wage; addressing high rents and the cost of childcare; and reinvesting in children’s services.

Sian (GMPA’s recently appointed Food Poverty Programme Coordinator) set out GMPA’s response to the National Food Strategy in our last newsletter. Whilst a national conversation about food poverty is welcome (and necessary), the strategy recommendations do not focus enough on fixing these underlying causes of poverty.

GMPA Director Graham Whitham for GM Poverty ActionIn Greater Manchester it is important that we use what resources and powers we do have to support people in a way that prevents and reduces poverty, and that gives people maximum dignity, choice and control in the way support is provided. This should involve identifying opportunities to boost household income by increasing benefit take-up and widespread adoption of the Real Living Wage, as well as providing people with access to money rather than in-kind support such as food parcels and vouchers (see our ‘Cash First’ briefing for further discussion about the benefits of this approach).

Graham Whitham
GMPA Director


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Child Poverty

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Getting child poverty back on the national agenda
By Graham Whitham  Director, GMPA

End Child Poverty logo
Last Thursday GMPA joined other End Child Poverty Coalition (ECP) members on a Zoom call with Angela Raynor MP (Deputy Leader of the Labour Party), Jonathan Reynolds MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) and Kate Green MP (Shadow Minister for Child Poverty, and now also Shadow Secretary of State for Education) to discuss the opposition’s policy approach to tackling child poverty. In light of that conversation and the government’s recent U-turn on Free School Meal (FSM) vouchers during the summer holidays, it feels like child poverty is back on the national agenda for the first time in years.

  • FSM meal provision during the school holidays is just one of the many things that needs to happen to drive down child poverty across the country. There have been several calls on government in recent months to do more on poverty, as well as research reports highlighting the scale of the challenge facing the UK. For example, Save the Children and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have issued a joint call for a £20 weekly increase in the child element of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit to help stave off millions of families falling into financial hardship over the coming months. This would support up to 4 million families and 8 million children at a time when, according to research published by Save the Children, 70% of families have had to cut back on food and other essentials, while half have fallen behind on rent or other household bills, sparking fears of more hardship ahead if unemployment rises further.
  • Child Poverty Action Group’s The cost of learning in lockdown report details results of a survey of 3600 parents and carers and 1300 children and young people. The survey found that Covid-19 magnified some of the factors that contribute to negative outcomes associated with children growing up in poverty. The low-income parents and carers responding to the survey were just as likely to be concerned with helping their children to continue learning through lockdown. However, they reported facing significantly more stress and worry around home learning and household finances than parents and carers in better off homes.
  • Data released by Citizens Advice shows the nature of the issues for which people are seeking support. Citizens Advice is warning that its data shows people are becoming increasingly concerned about redundancy, as the nation moves into a new phase where government support packages are scaled back. For 66 days straight, the charity’s page on being furloughed was the most viewed on its website. On June 5th, the numbers of visitors to the charity’s main redundancy webpage took the number one spot from being furloughed.
Graham Whitham, Director GMPA for GM Poverty Action

Graham Whitham, Director GMPA

You’ll note that all three shadow ministers that ECP met with are MPs for Greater Manchester constituencies, and it is a helpful link for GMPA as we seek to ensure poverty is central to the local recovery from the pandemic. In our last newsletter we discussed what a local framework for tackling poverty could look like. We followed this up with a webinar last week – Poverty and the recovery – which many of you attended. Please keep an eye on our newsletter and website as we develop this work further.


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Child Poverty

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GMPA joins calls for national action on poverty

By Graham Whitham

Even before the devastating impact of Covid-19 on household incomes, child poverty has been rising rapidly in some of the poorest communities in Britain, leaving growing numbers of children cut adrift and ill equipped to cope with the impact of the pandemic.

As a member of the End Child Poverty Coalition, GMPA is joining calls on the Government to take seriously the four year rise in child poverty and to commit to an ambitious and comprehensive strategy to end child poverty in the UK as it plans the nation’s recovery from Coronavirus.

New analysis of government poverty data undertaken by Loughborough University, on behalf of the End Child Poverty Coalition (ECP), tracks four years of child poverty across Britain before housing costs are taken into account (2014/15 – 2018/19). The analysis highlights those parts of the country where children are most likely to have been swept into poverty since 2014.

The research shows that the North West of England experienced the third highest increase in child poverty between 2014/15 to 2018/19 (see table 1), and that the largest increases in child poverty happened in already deprived areas. Among Greater Manchester’s ten local authorities, Oldham saw the largest increases in child poverty as it rose from 28.7% to 38% (see table 2). Stockport and Trafford were the only Greater Manchester boroughs to experiences increases in child poverty lower than the increase across the country as a whole.

Table 1 Change in child poverty by region 2014/15 to 2018/19

RegionChild poverty rate 2014/15Child poverty rate 2018/19% point increase
NORTH EAST17.3%23.7%6.5%
WEST MIDLANDS19.1%23.8%4.7%
NORTH WEST18.5%23.0%4.5%
SOUTH EAST10.8%13.7%2.9%
EAST MIDLANDS16.6%16.6%0.0%
SOUTH WEST15.0%13.4%-1.6%

The pandemic has underlined the need for urgent action to address child poverty. Recent ONS analysis, carried out 17-27 April 2020, found that 23% of adults said the coronavirus was affecting their household finances. The most common impact in this group was reduced income (70%), and nearly half saying they had needed to use savings or borrow to cover living costs. A number of announcements over the last month or so will be helping some people. The government’s furlough scheme and increase in support through Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit will help. Although welcome, these measures are unlikely to be enough to stop the pandemic pushing many households into financial hardship, either in the short or long-term.

There are additional measures GMPA would like to see, and we have been adding our voice to national campaigns calling for changes which include:

  • Substantially increasing Child Benefit. This is the quickest and most efficient means of getting extra money into the pockets of families;
  • Ending the two-child limit that restricts benefit payments to the first two children in the household;
  • Scrapping the benefit cap that limits the total amount of support a household can receive through the benefit system; and
  • Providing extra funding towards council’s local welfare assistance schemes so that they can meet the extra demand for support over the coming weeks and months.

Table 2 Percent of children in households below 60% median, before housing costs,
by local authority 2014/15 to 2018/19

2014/152018/19Percentage point increase,
2014/15 to 2018/19
GB Total15.6%18.4%2.8%


For the full report from ECP, please go to the website

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