Nearly a quarter of pupils lose free school meals eligibility in Havering
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Nearly a quarter of the pupils in Havering 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.
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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.
Councillor Robert Benham, cabinet member for education, children and families at Havering Council said: “There has been an overall reduction in England of 4per cent in the number of families claiming free school meals for their children in the last five years.
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“It has been a much higher reduction across London but in Havering the reduction is lower than the both the national and London average.
“Reasons for these reductions can be due to the natural movement of people across different areas, changes in economic circumstances and the introduction of infant free meals in 2014.
“Havering Council has also carried out work in the borough to ensure that families who claim housing benefit are also aware of their eligibility to claim free school meals for their children.”
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: “At a time when more children are growing up in poverty, fewer are getting the help they need with free school meals. Out of a class of 30 kids, nine are growing up in poverty and six of these have working parents.
“When parents earn just above the threshold for a free meal children are at risk of losing what might be their only hot balanced meal of the day.
“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.”