Last week, I attended a briefing about free school meals for children affected by the No Recourse to Public Funds policy.
We know that eating well in childhood is the foundation stone of equality of opportunity, and it is essential for both physical and mental growth. Free school meals is an essential part of a child’s academic and social development. However, children whose family are impacted by the No Recourse to Public Funds policy do not have access to free school meals. That’s why I have written to the Education Secretary to ask him about the impact of his policy on children. You can read my letter below:
Dear Mr Zahawi,
I am writing to you following a cross-party briefing in Parliament organised by Praxis and RAMP about access to free school meals for children affected by No Recourse to Public Funds policy.
We know that eating well in childhood is the foundation stone of equality of opportunity, and it is essential for both physical and mental growth. Since the introduction of Universal Infant School Meals in 2014, all children from reception to year 2 who attend government-funded schools get free school meals automatically. However from year 3 and beyond, access to these meals are means tested. Children whose family have no recourse to public funds are denied these free meals, as well as any other form of the welfare safety net.
I welcome the fact Government temporarily extended the eligibility for free school meals to some children affected by the No Recourse to Public Funds policy. Now, Praxis is calling for free school meals to be made permanently available to all children who need them, regardless of immigration status. I would like to know if the Government has made an assessment on this possibility.
We know that free school meals is life-changing for so many school children. As well as providing one-nutritionally-balanced hot meal per day, it also takes the pressure off tight family budgets. In May 2021, I spoke at a Parliamentary Debate on Support for Children Entitled to Free School Meals. As a former council leader, I wanted to know which schools did not have a breakfast club so I could ask them to put one on. Not only do they help working families to have children in school on time and have an early start, they also show that where breakfast and lunch is of a high quality, it helps enormously with academic achievement and concentration. Teachers say that, with good nutrition, children’s behaviour is good right through into the afternoon.
During this briefing, I heard from a welfare officer from a primary school in Lewisham and a year 7 student and his mother who talked about the importance of free school meals for all children. In particular, this year 7 student had benefited from the extended eligibility for free school meals. He said that before this, being denied a free meal made him feel sad and different from his peers. The Chief Executive of Praxis, Mohammed Shazad, said something that has stayed with me. He said: “It doesn’t matter what you think of immigration, this issue is about children”. He is right. Access to free school meals for every child is very important and it allows them to sit together at the lunch table and enjoy a free hot meal.
Analysis released in March 2021 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed that child poverty had been increasing for six years before the pandemic hit, with three quarters of children growing up in poverty being from a working family. Child Poverty Action Group has estimated that 1 million children living in poverty (or 36% of all school-aged children) continue to miss out of free school meals because the eligibility criteria is too restrictive. Coming out of the pandemic, we need a bold recovery plan that will support every child to bounce back.
I would be grateful for your comment on the raised concerns.
I look forward to hearing from you.