Chester’s local Labour MP, Chris Matheson, is calling on the government to address the gap in free school meal funding, by encouraging schools to roll over unused free school meals allowance.
Currently, every child from a low-income family is allocated £2.30 to cover the cost of lunch, in a cashless payment system.
In most schools, if a child does not use the whole £2.30 in one day, the left-over money drops off the card. But a small number of schools enable pupils to roll over unused free school meals allowance that result from absence.
Feeding Britain has estimated that in one year alone £88.3 million allocated to local authorities to provide free school meals for eligible children has ‘disappeared’.
Chris raised this issue with the Education Minister, Vicky Ford MP, in the House of Commons.
He stated: “I believe that £2.30 is not enough to cover the cost of the school meal, but it cannot be rolled over, meaning that £88million went unspent when it should have been used to feed children from low income families”.
Chris said: “The Government could solve this problem by directly advising schools to allow any unused money to be rolled over to the next school day.
“There are a small number of good practice examples where schools use an effective and responsible way of enabling pupils to roll over unused free school meals allowance.”
Chris is calling on the Government to write to all schools, highlighting these examples and encouraging everyone to adopt the policy.
Chris said: “The West Cheshire Poverty Truth Commission found that the £2.30 provided to children from low income families is rarely enough to buy a full meal, never mind a snack at break time when they have missed breakfast. There is a crucial link between nutritious food, and a child’s concentration levels, attainment and general wellbeing at school. A hungry child won’t learn, and won’t enjoy school.
“And in many schools, children aren’t able to make the most of this £2.30 allocation. The full sum of money allocated to schools by the Government specifically to feed children from low-income families, is not being used for that purpose. The left-over money disappears. It is unclear where this money is going. In most cases it will be redirected back into the school budget to cover other areas where the budget it stretched. Or the money might be kept at local authority level.”
He added: “Free school meals provide vital support for low-income families and those living in poverty. For almost a third of these children, school lunch is their main meal of the day. Many miss breakfast due to caring responsibilities, meaning they also arrive at school too late to benefit from Breakfast Club. The school meal system is not currently set up to support these children, allowing them to fall through the cracks”.
Chris also said: “I am particularly concerned that the Government has not addressed the issue of school meals in the event of school closures as a result of Covid-19. Many families rely on schools to give children their main meal of the day. The Government must be prepared to support families relying upon this vital service.”