Campaigning Councillor Debbie Darby (Ind Alliance – Collingham) has claimed that more and more children are living in hunger – due to strict rules over qualification for free school meals.
She was speaking at the first meeting of the Children and Young People’s Select Committee at Nottinghamshire County Council.
Councillor Darby, a mother and grandmother has asked the committee to investigate what more support the Council can provide to families who miss out on out on free school meals including improving access to services like free holiday activities.
Debbie, the spokesperson for the Independent Alliance at County Hall told the new committee:
“The first issue of concern is the dramatic rise in free school meal claimants. Latest figures show that there are now 23,882 children claiming free school meals – a fifth of pupils in the County.
“This has dramatically risen since March 2020 – the start of the COVID pandemic. As much of a concern however is the children who only just don’t qualify for free school meals.
“Thousands more children in poverty are missing out.
“Many don’t qualify for free school meals, because the criteria are too strict – that doesn’t mean that the kids are not hungry.
“Being a free school meal claimant unlocks a significant amount of other free services like holiday activities.
“We have heard stories of starving children begging for free school meals because they are hungry.
“Can we carry out an investigation in what we can do to help young people not just on free school meals BUT all those whose families are on Universal Credit and other benefits? Can we as a committee look at changing the eligibility criteria to unlock things like free holidays for those who live in real poverty?”
A Nottinghamshire County Council spokesperson said:
“Eligibility criteria for benefits-related free school meals is set nationally, not by the local authority.
“The remit of the council’s Select Committees is to examine and scrutinise decisions made by this council, not by central government.
“In terms of supporting Nottinghamshire families who are struggling with rising costs, we’re determined to do all that we can to help vulnerable families and have provided free school meal vouchers – funded by the Government – to thousands of eligible schoolchildren over school holidays, including the upcoming summer holiday.
“The Nottinghamshire Holiday Activities and Food programme is also continuing to run, providing free activities to children and young people along with healthy meals so that they can be active and eat well.
“We continue to encourage parents to check their eligibility and sign up for free school meals which they can do by visiting our website. This way, even more families can benefit from the help and support available.”