Suffolk: Thousands of children in poverty missing out on free school meals

Hundreds of school children are going hungry

Hundreds of school children are going hungry - Credit: PA

More than 12,500 children in poverty in the Suffolk area are not getting a free school meal, a leading children’s charity has claimed.

And it has also been revealed today that schools across the county could be missing out on up to £5million in extra Government funding if parents of children eligible for free school meals don’t sign up.

Under the Government’s ‘pupil premium’ scheme, schools get hundreds of pounds in extra funding for every eligible child. However official estimates suggest that as much as 32% of those eligible in Suffolk don’t take up the support.

Councillor Graham Newman, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education and young people, said: “It is difficult to overstate just how much of a win-win situation is created when eligible parents claim free school meals for their children.

“Not only do they save money, their children get a hot meal at lunchtime and the school benefits from significant sums of additional money.”

Figures from The Children’s Society show there are 2,600 children in poverty in Ipswich missing out on school meals, in the Suffolk Coastal area there are 1,600, 1,800 in Suffolk West, 1,400 in Suffolk South, 1,400 in Suffolk Central and North Ipswich, 2,600 in Waveney, and 1,200 in Bury St Edmunds.

Across the whole of the East of England, almost 115,000 children in poverty are not applying for the benefit.

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Ben Gummer, MP for Ipswich, said: “It is particularly difficult to get people to apply who are working but on the breadline and could be eligible for free school meals. Also immigrant families or those who have a poor grasp of English.

“I would urge everyone who thinks that they might be eligible to apply. It is better for your family budget, at pretty minimal cost to the taxpayer. Also the pupil premium that the school can claim is a significant amount of money for schools, which can go towards funding more staff.”

Libby Brown, headteacher at Kyson Primary School in Woodbridge, has recently made a concerted effort to inform parents about their children’s entitlement and increase the number of eligible children claiming free school meals. It resulted in 15 applications in just five days.

She said: “Recent Department for Education information made it clear that people in Suffolk are not claiming their entitlement and at Kyson, it made us look hard at how we could encourage more of our parents. We made it clear that parents can apply even if they wish their children to continue with packed meals, and it worked.”

The Children’s Society, through its Fair and Square campaign, is calling on the government to make free school meals available to all children in poverty.

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