Fair and square

More than half of all school children living in poverty - 1.2 million - are missing out on free school meals, reveals shocking new research by The Children's Society. And 700,000 are not entitled to free school meals at all.

The Fair and Square report, published in April 2012, shows that 91% of UK adults believe that all children living in poverty should receive free school meals.

The Children's Society, backed by several organisations including ATL and the Trades Union Congress, wants the government to extend free school meals to all children living in poverty, including low-income working families. It is asking ATL members to sign a petition lobbying the government on this issue.

Why are free school meals important?

In this country, 2.2 million school children are living in poverty. Free school meals provide vital financial support for low-income families - for almost a third of children, school lunch is the main meal of the day.

The Fair and Square campaign demonstrates that eligibility for free school meals also has serious ramifications for families in low paid work and those looking to move back into work. The planned introduction of universal credit means that many of the current benefits used to assess who is entitled to free school meals will be scrapped. A completely new system of entitlement is set to be put into place in the next year.

At the moment lone parents working 16 or more hours a week (24 hours per week for a couple) lose their entitlement to free school meals. Nearly half (45%) of parents are worried about the financial implications of moving back into work or taking additional hours. Six of out of ten parents (60%) say that free school meal eligibility has a direct impact on their decision to move back into work, or work more hours. One parent surveyed said: "When I move into paid work my income will be lower - school lunches are yet another thing to worry about."

Evidence shows that eating a healthy meal at lunchtime improves children's concentration and can have a positive impact on classroom behaviour. Nutritious school meals for disadvantaged children can also help develop healthy eating habits and have the potential to decrease health inequalities.

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