By Tom Lee, Senior Policy Analyst at Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)
Free School Meals (FSMs) have sparked a lot of policy debate in recent years. Yet, still 900,000 children living in poverty across England do not qualify for nationally provided FSMs, including 100,000 in the North West of England.
Our new report with GMPA focuses on FSMs in the North West, including new statistics on the number of children in poverty across the region missing out. It also looks at the role of schools and local authorities in FSM provision. Finally, the report considers the socio-economic benefits, including the impact on children’s socio-economic rights, which support a nationwide universal roll-out of FSM.
The 100,000 children are spread out across the region, and new analysis shows that every local authority (LA) has thousands of children in poverty who miss out.
We encourage LAs to do all they can to increase the number of children in low-income families benefiting from FSM, but recognise the different and difficult environments that they operate in. We encourage local and regional authorities to extend the provision of FSM where funding can be made available.
There are also low-cost and no-cost practices LAs can adopt to improve take-up under the existing eligibility criteria. LAs and local leaders can also support calls for a nationwide expansion to ensure FSM provision reaches all children.
As well as LAs, schools can work to identify and address any existing policies or practices that prevent pupils taking up their FSM entitlement or further disadvantage them.
However, the responsibility for tackling this issue does not rest with LAs and schools. The UK government must provide universal FSM for all children and young people in full-time education up to the age of 18 in England.
Aside from the obvious benefits of ensuring no children goes hungry at school, and improving family finances, introducing universal FSM would help to realise children’s socio-economic rights, as well as a variety of socio-economic benefits.