Wales has highest percentage of children in poverty missing out on free school meals in UK
Wales has the highest percentage of children in poverty missing out on free school meals in UK, according to research by two charities.
A new report from Child Poverty Action Group and Covid Realities shows that 44% of all school-aged children in poverty in Wales are not entitled to a free meal at school, compared with 36% across the UK.
The equivalent numbers in England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland are 37%, 22% and 17%.
In Scotland, only 25,000 children in poverty miss out on a free school meal, compared with 55,000 in Wales, despite the larger population.
“Wales has a relatively high number of children in poverty who miss out as they no universal FSMs, restrictive eligibility criteria for means-tested FSMs and a high child poverty rate,” the report says.
The report authors recommend following the Scottish government’s lead by extending universal free school meals to all primary school pupils in the rest of the UK. They estimate this would cost £770 million per year.
Kate Anstey, UK Cost of the School Day lead at Child Poverty Action Group, said it was an “outrage” that so many children in poverty aren’t allowed a free school meal.
“We know what a huge difference these meals can make to struggling families who are at their wits’ end. It’s high time we gave them one less thing to worry about – that’s why we’re calling for urgent changes to the rules so all families on a low income can get this daily support,” she said.
The report authors said that free school meals should be expanded to everyone on universal credit or equivalent benefits. They estimate that this would cost £700 million per year. In addition, they said, free school meals should be extended to all families with no recourse to public funds.
As a further step, the authors are also recommending a move towards universal free school meals for all children in the UK, stating the numerous benefits of this approach, including increased take-up and reduced stigma. They estimate that universal free school meals for all children in the UK would cost £1.75 billion.
Dr Maddy Power, Co-Investigator of the Covid Realities project, said that when listening to parents and carers living on a low income it became evident the important difference that free school meals can make to family finances.
“Parents and carers are clear that ultimately the only dignified and fair solution is universal free school meals for all children in the UK,” she said. “In the short-term, however, change is needed urgently to ensure that all families living on a low income are entitled to free school meals.”
The report notes that in Wales, while there is no universal school lunch provision, children in local-authority-maintained primary schools can claim a free breakfast.