More than a third of pupils lose free school meal eligibility in Redbridge

Pupils at St Aidan's Catholic Primary School in Ilford getting her free school meal.

Pupils at St Aidan's Catholic Primary School in Ilford getting her free school meal. - Credit: Archant

More than a third of the pupils in Redbridge who could claim free school meals five years ago are no longer eligible for them.

Children can claim free school meals if their parents receive certain benefits.

As the number of benefit claimants in England has dropped in recent years, thousands of children have lost their right to free meals at school lunchtimes.

Pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 are automatically eligible for free school meals in England.

From Year 3, eligibility for meals is linked to parents’ benefits.

The situation has since been complicated by the rollout of Universal Credit, replacing other benefits.

In February, the Government announced that children in England whose parents received Universal Credit and earned to £7,400 would be eligible for free school meals, a threshold frozen until the 2021-22 academic year.

Most Read

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that this means 50,000 more children will be entitled to the meals in the future, but warned that 160,000 children who currently receive them could miss out as the rules change.

A Redbridge Council spokeswoman said: “Fewer children have registered for free school meals with the council following the introduction of both universal free school meals from the government for school pupils Reception to Year 2 and the increase of schools converting to academies.

“We encourage parents to identify if they are entitled to receive free school meals and we always remind schools and staff who work with eligible families to encourage parents to claim free school meals.”

The Child Poverty Action Group warned that the drop risked leaving some children without their only hot meal of the day.

Alison Garnham, the charity’s chief executive said: “Out of a class of 30 kids, nine are growing up in poverty and six of these have working parents.

“School meals should be free for all as an important part of the school day - we don’t see patients in hospital being means tested before they are given a meal.

“At the very least, the rules must be changed so that all families entitled to Universal Credit get free school meals, including many working families.”