Council leader lobbies Government over free school meals

Cumbria Council Council’s Leader Stewart Young has this week written to the Secretary of State for Education Gillian Keegan, urging her to take action on free school meals in the face of rising costs and growing levels of child poverty.

Cllr Young’s intervention follows a decision by the council in December to provide an extra £1.5 million to local schools to support provision of nutritious food to pupils.

The letter asks Government to act on three key issues:

  • Increase the funding allowed for free school meals in line with inflation. As inflation has driven up costs, schools have been forced to meet the shortfall from elsewhere in their budget, or in some cases compromise on the quantity or quality of food offered.
  • Ensure funding matches changes in the number of pupils eligible for free school meals in year. Currently funding is based on the number of eligible pupils at one point in the year. In Cumbria is 2020-21, the number eligible children increased in-year by 989, and while those children received support straight away, their schools had to manage within their predetermined budgets, putting other areas of their budget under pressure.
  • Extend eligibility for free school meals to all children under 16 living in a household with an income of less than £20,000.

Councillor Young said:

“Urgent action is needed on free school meals; Government is simply not doing enough, and it is the most vulnerable pupils who are losing out. Ensuring funding rises with inflation is an obvious first step, and making funding respond to changing numbers of eligible pupils could easily be done. The £1.5 million we allocated late last year was an attempt to plug the gap left by Government, but we know it’s a sticking plaster. 

“Our call to extend free school eligibility also makes sense, given the overwhelming evidence of the importance of nutritious food in schools on pupil health and how they do in school.

“The Secretary of State has the power to make all of these things happen. I hope she will see the sense in what we are proposing and take action.”


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