Free school meals: families “train” to eat so that their children do not go hungry

FAith Agnwet says she learned to “train her own way” of eating during the school holidays. By managing to eat less, she wants to ensure that her children – aged five and two – do not go hungry.

And with summer vacation fast approaching, she worries.

Her five-year-old son is entitled to free school meals during school terms, like nearly 2 million other children in England.

Despite the cost of living crisis, the government has so far resisted calls to extend the scheme over the summer as it did in the first year of the Covid pandemic.

But for Agnwet, times are tough – and only getting worse. The single mother says she will “struggle” without any extra help to ensure her children are fed during the six-week holiday.

“It’s definitely something I’m thinking about: how am I going to keep them going?” she says.

Faith Agnwet says she’ll ‘struggle’ without extra help through the summer

(Provided)

While she would typically buy in bulk to cut costs during school holidays, she couldn’t afford to do so this year as supermarket prices soared.

“It’s gotten to the point where sometimes when I’m emptying the closet, I find things that I bought in bulk, and that’s what keeps me going,” the single parent from Southwark said. The Independent.

In west London, Aurora* are also worried about what this summer will bring.

The widowed parent says his children – aged seven and 13 – have been receiving free school meals for “as long as I can remember”.

And she says it would help if this support continued through the summer, given that the cost of living has risen so much.

“I calculated everything. I wouldn’t have the means to pay for school meals, ”says the forty-year-old who has just started a new job as a caregiver on a zero-hour contract. The Independent.

“Universal Credit is simply not good enough as is. My rent is really high. Because I live in London, we would really struggle.

Currently, children can access free food during school holidays through government-funded activity clubs, which typically operate for four weeks during the summer.

But Aurora says that’s not a viable option for her children, because of the cost of travel.

Around 495,000 children – less than a third of those who receive free school meals during school terms and are therefore eligible to attend – used these clubs during the summer holidays last year, official statistics show. .

“I was offered a summer club last year. But the fact is I would have had to pay £20 a week to go,” says Aurora, who lives in Ealing.

“Even though it was in my borough, it wasn’t within walking distance. My youngest’s school is already nearly two miles away.

In the first year of the Covid pandemic, vouchers were given out to families for free school meals over the summer, following a high-profile campaign led by footballer Marcus Rashford.

Tayyaba Siddiqui, whose primary school-aged son is receiving free school meals, says the same level of support is “absolutely needed” this year too. She now does without the £20-a-week Universal Credit boost, which was scrapped last autumn.

“Vouchers are useful. Because then you can choose what you want to buy,” says the NHS worker, who lives in north London.

“My son and I eat so many halal things,” she says, adding that it’s hard to find a food bank in her area that offers things they can eat; she does not want to have to throw away the given food.

The 46-year-old single parent says times are certainly tough right now.

Tayyaba Siddiqui, a 46-year-old NHS worker, says free school meal vouchers are ‘definitely’ needed this summer

(Provided)

“I count money,” she says. “As an adult, you can survive on less food. Although it will affect your work if you are tired, do not eat enough.

“But what about a child? It’s not his fault. I don’t want my child to know that we are going towards poverty.

Official government figures released this week show the number of children eligible for free school meals has now risen to 1.9million. This equates to 23% of the student population, up from 20.8% last year.

Former education secretaries and unions have called for the eligibility criteria for free school meals to be extended this year during the cost of living crisis, to all children whose families are on Universal Credit. Those who receive the allowance but earn more than £7,400 a year are currently not eligible to claim free school meals.

A government spokesman said it understood millions of people are struggling during the cost of living crisis and was providing an extra £15billion in recognition of this.

“We have also expanded access to free school meals more than any other government in decades, currently reaching more than 1.9 million eligible children,” they said.

“The holiday activity and food program runs during the major school holidays, and wider social support is available through the Household Support Fund, which helps vulnerable families in need with essentials, such as food and utility bills.”

*Aurora didn’t want to use her real name

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