Due to the fact that they come from some of the poorest families in England, approximately half of the students at St Mary’s Primary School in London are eligible for a free school meal.
Additionally, the government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is defying pleas from NGOs to expand student access to taxpayer-funded meals in the face of a rising cost of living crisis.
The number of St. Mary’s students eligible for a free school lunch is significantly greater than the UK norm, at 48% of students.
According to Claire Mitchell, a member of the school’s leadership team, “It’s alarming to think that a number of children and our families are trying to make ends meet and are having to give the food that they need for their family.”
Other families that should qualify for free school meals are unable to do so because their income exceeds the cutoff, which in England is set at £7,400 ($9,163) annually.
According to Stephanie Slater, founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization School Food Matters, “the threshold is merely set too low, and is out of pace with the other devolved nations in the UK.”
“The threshold is £14,000 in Northern Ireland. In Scotland and Wales, universal free school meals are currently being implemented, which will eventually provide a free lunch to every student in every school.
In England, only little more than one-third of students receive the help, which is equal to roughly £2.40 per day.
One in three children in England who are said to live in poverty do not qualify, according to the Child Poverty Action Group.
Started With Pandemic
Many parents at St. Mary’s, a Roman Catholic school, are finding it difficult to keep up with rising food and electricity costs.
The school has a food bank where donated staples like milk and bread can be obtained for nothing.
For us, the pandemic was the turning point when families either lost their jobs or were unable to work as many hours as they had in the past, according to Mitchell.
In England, the number of households unable to pay for school lunches has increased by 50%, according to the Sutton Trust.
In the interim, the organization has criticized the government for failing to increase access in a recent budget.
Marcus Rashford, a football player for Manchester United and England, has spearheaded an effort to make school lunches more widely available.
When we discuss hunger, we mean kids who attend school and depend on a hot, nourishing lunch, according to Slater.
According to her, “schools will either subsidise free meals for those children out of their own school budgets, or families are sending in packed lunches that are inadequate because they’re struggling to find good nutrition,” for those who are not eligible for a free lunch but find themselves in need.
A hungry child “will struggle to focus and concentrate,” according to Mitchell.
“It’ll be difficult to catch up if they’re not operating at their maximum ability right now.”