Havering children eligible for free school meals soars by 44pc in five years

File photo dated 28/08/09 of a school meal being served as around 900,000 children from low-income f

The number of eligible children in the borough rose more sharply than in four other north east London boroughs. - Credit: PA

Havering has seen a sharp rise in the number of children living in food poverty over the past five years. 

The number of pupils eligible for free school meals in the borough increased by 44 per cent over the period, higher than four other local authority areas in north east London. 

For comparison, the numbers rose by 40 per cent in Newham, 29pc in Barking and Dagenham and 3pc in Tower Hamlets. 

In Redbridge, the number of children eligible fell by 2pc. 

Despite the sharp rise, Havering still only has the fourth highest proportion of eligible children (17pc) out of the five boroughs, with Tower Hamlets coming in highest at 38pc. 

This comes as the cost of living is set to soar, and Dagenham and Rainham MP Jon Cruddas said price increases would only make matters worse. 

“The government’s own food security report in December found the poorest 20pc of families spend a greater proportion of their income on food and will be hit hardest by price increases,” he said. 

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Councillor Robert Benham, cabinet member for education, children and families, said: “The rising number of children eligible for free school meals reflects the increase in families who are in receipt of many other benefits such as income support, job seekers allowance and child tax credits.

"This increase is sadly also in line with national figures which saw a steady rise in the percentage of eligible pupils over the same time period.

“We understand that the last few years has been particularly difficult for many local families.

"The Council has done its best to help – offering a School Holiday Meal Scheme. From October 2021 to this March, alone, we have allocated £740,000 to deliver this.

"This is in addition to the extra support available through the Havering Helps fund – which has now given out more than £800,000 to our most vulnerable families and residents since the beginning of the pandemic.”

This newspaper's ongoing There With You This Winter campaign is keeping readers up to date on the emerging cost of living crisis, helping to raise awareness of support on offer during the cold winter months.

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Our new There With You This Winter campaign will help readers in fuel poverty or facing financial hardship cope with rising energy costs and improve their fuel efficiency - Credit: Archant