Automatic registration of free school meals would help 160,000 children - MP says
18/12/2015 - 12:40
LACA has backed a bill to automatically register eligible children for free school meals.

The bill, which was heard in the House of Commons for the first time yesterday and has received the cross party backing of 126 MPs, would mean 160,000 eligible children would be identified and an extra £211 million funding would go to schools, according to Frank Field’s who has created the bill.

Peter McGrath, chair of LACA, said: "LACA is hugely supportive of Labour MP Frank Field’s Bill to enable automatic enrolment of children eligible for free school meals. Hunger and poor nutrition are a real problem for thousands of children across the country and a large number are missing out on support they are entitled to.

"A hot and nutritionally balanced meal at lunchtime has a raft of benefits for the health, behaviour and attainment of students and as many children that can receive this the better chance we have of raising a generation of healthy adults.” 

In his motion yesterday, Fields said: “Last night, in each of our constituencies, a large number of children went to bed hungry and took that hunger to school with them today. To her credit, the Secretary of State for Education is concerned about this, and about the number of children who appear to be eligible for free school meals but are getting no hot meal at the beginning of the day.

“The reasons why those children go to school hungry are moderately complicated to unravel. Clearly, at the bottom of our society, there is an increase in the number of low-paid jobs, and the wages from those low-paid jobs are uncertain.

“The all-party parliamentary group on hunger has identified problems with benefit delivery. There are also problems—let’s face it—of families who lead such chaotic lives that they let their children go to school hungry when they have the resources to do otherwise. Some families do not do that, but clearly some families do.

“The Bill takes the campaign against hunger a stage further. It will compel local authorities to use their housing benefit data to counter hunger by identifying, first of all, the 160,000 children who are eligible for free school dinners but who, for some reason, do not claim. On average, that means that, in each of our constituencies, 250 children go hungry who probably do not need to do so.

“The last Government linked the school premium to eligibility for free school meals. Equally importantly, therefore, the Bill will mean that £211 million follows those 160,000 children into our schools, so schools will be better able to cope with hunger and better able to integrate those children on school trips with other children.”