Nearly 5,000 Plymouth schoolchildren missing out on free school meals
NEARLY 5,000 schoolchildren living in poverty in the city are missing out on free school meals, a children's charity has said.
In Plymouth Sutton and Devonport that is a staggering 49 per cent of the child population, and in Plymouth Moor View that is 42 per cent of the child population.
In total, across the city, there are 4,600 children who are missing out on vital free school meals.
In South West Devon it is 600 children (36 per cent) and in South East Cornwall 1,600 children (56 per cent).
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The Children's Society said many low-income families are unable to get free school meals simply because their parents are working – regardless of how little they earn.<
Free school meals are a crucial entitlement for families living in poverty and the meals aim to ensure that children from the lowest income families receive warm, nutritious food in the middle of the day.
For some children, a free school lunch may be the only proper meal they get.
The Children's Society has released the figures through its Fair and Square campaign.
It is now calling on the government to make free school meals available to all children in poverty.
Ellen Broome, policy director at the Children's Society, said: "There are two main reasons why children in poverty are not getting a free school meal. The most significant is the fact that, despite many living in poverty, because their parents work more than eligibly allows (a single parent working more than 16 hours a week or a couple working more than 24 hours a week), they do not qualify for this vital support, despite their need.
"The other reason is either parents don't know they are eligible, or children who qualify may fear bullying/stigma because they may be in schools where they can be identified as receiving free school meals."
The charity is urging people to contact their MP to support this call.
MP Alison Seabeck, Labour MP for Plymouth Moor View, said: "There is no doubt that children eating during the day will help them learn and children with a good meal inside them will behave better.
"It's really not good children in Plymouth are in this position.
"The Government needs to look at this research and the detail of these figures. I will certainly be writing to the minister to encourage him to investigate the level of need in Plymouth."
And for parents in poverty, finding money for school meals often means struggling to provide their children with the basics, including shoes for school and heating the home.
MP Oliver Colvile, Conservative MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, added: "We will write to the minister to do as much as we possibly can to help these children. I'm very willing to meet with parents as well."
Pilgrim Primary School has one of the highest number of pupils receiving free school meals.
Susan Jones, headteacher, said: "Over half of our children are entitled and most take them up. It is really important children can be guaranteed a meal during the day, it will undoubtedly improve their learning and behaviour."
Jack Griffiths, headteacher of Marlborough Primary School, added: "I'm surprised at that figure. No one would know at the school if a meal was free or not. I would implore parents to investigate further and benefit from them."
Plympton St Mary's School has one of the lowest amount of students receiving free school meals.
Headteacher Pete Hayes, said: "Children need appropriate food in their diet. I'm sure we have parents who are eligible but they don't take them up. Our numbers are low but I'm sure there are more who could take them up."