With the upcoming summer break and school holidays, most of us are looking forward to this as a fun and exciting time to let off a little steam, especially as we are set to have some nice weather. But for families who are facing financial challenges, the school holidays can be a really difficult time, and as the school holidays are now upon us, many low income families, who usually rely on free school meals, are starting to worry about how they are going to afford to feed their children.
For the Debt Movement team, knowing that financial strains and debt can impact children is especially harrowing, and this is enhanced by the realisation that the economic impact of the pandemic has pushed even more UK families into poverty. As a result, the demand for free school meals has soared and it is a huge weight off parents shoulders knowing that their child is guaranteed at least one meal a day during term time.
According to recent research, nearly 30% of parents of school-aged children are worried about feeding their children over the summer holidays. These figures are higher among parents with children between the ages of 8 and 16 who currently rely on free school meals, with 49% of these people expressing concern about feeding their children over the summer holidays.
How has the pandemic affected child poverty and food poverty?
Throughout the past year, many have been struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to free school meals has been vital in reducing the number of starving children.
Since the first lockdown on 23 March 2020, over 420,000 pupils have become eligible for free school meals. Comparing this to the 292,000 pupils who were eligible for the same period before the pandemic, we have seen a massive increase of nearly 130,000 pupils who are now eligible for free school meals. According to data published by the UK Government, 20.8% of the total pupils are known to be eligible for free school meals, this figure represents 1.74 million pupils. This figure has increased 3.5% from January 2020.
This shows the devastating impact that the pandemic has had on many families in the UK, outlining how many more pupils now rely on free school meals. In many cases, this may be their only hot meal for the day.
Who is eligible for free school meals?
Free school meals are available to all young children, and children in state schools whose parents or guardians earn a low income or receive benefits themselves.
Children of all ages may be eligible for free school meals if they live in households receiving income-related benefits including and among others, income support, Income-based jobseeker’s allowance, Income-related employment and support allowance or universal credit.
What will happen during the summer holidays?
Traditionally, free school meals have only been provided during term time, however, because of the devastating impact of COVID-19 and thanks to the dedication and commitment of campaigners such as Marcus Rashford to the plight of ending child poverty, the government introduced food parcels or food vouchers to those on free school meals last summer.
This summer will be different to the previous one, the government will not be directly funding vouchers or food packages. Instead of simply offering free meals or giving cash to struggling parents, the government has decided to allocate £220 million for local councils to offer free holiday clubs. The Holiday Activities and Food Programme scheme will not only offer free healthy meals, but also physical activities for children. The funding is expected to cover activities for approximately 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, over 4 weeks of the summer holidays. Children who are eligible for free school meals are expected to gain free access to the club, whilst children who do not receive free school meals may still be offered places in the club, however, not for free.
How do I apply for free school meals?
The process for applying for free school meals is different for each council. In most cases you can apply through your local authority or directly through your child’s school. We recommend visiting your council website, which will have all the information you need.
At Debt Movement, we understand that bad debt often happens to good people. If you are worried about how you will provide for your children during the holidays without the assistance of free school meals, Debt Movement is here to offer you debt guidance with a selection of debt management solutions and financial advice. Request a free call back today.ff