300,000 children miss out on free meals

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Over a million children living in poverty are not entitled to free school meals, and a third of those who are eligible are missing out.

Over a million children living in poverty are not entitled to free school meals, and a third of those who are eligible are missing out.

A report by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has found that more than 300,000 children are missing out on school meals because the way some schools run the system leaves children vulnerable to bullying. Many primary and secondary schools have separate queues in the canteen for children taking free lunches and different types of meals, so children feel stigmatised and embarrassed.

The report adds further evidence of a North/South divide, as the number of children eligible for school meals in the North-east is double that in the South-east. It also shows that although children are at the centre of many of the Government's anti-poverty policies, the number of children taking free school meals has dropped since they came to power. In 1997 776,000 primary schoolchildren, 17.3 per cent, ate free school meals, compared with 690,000, 15.3 per cent, in 1999.

Tim Marsh of the CPAG, co-author of the report, said that if all schoolchildren living in poverty had free school meals, it would cost the Government only £410m extra a year or £287m if extended to families with gross incomes of under £14,300 a year.

Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "Yet again this independent report highlights the gap between the Government's rhetoric and the reality of poverty in Britain today. The Prime Minister is obsessed with Middle England, but there is another country out there, one he does not want to see."

Comments