At St Mary’s primary school in London, almost half of children are entitled to a free school lunch owing to the fact they are from England’s poorest families.
And while charities argue that more pupils should be allowed access to taxpayer-funded meals amid a cost-of-living crisis caused by sky-high inflation, the government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is resisting such calls.
At 48 per cent of pupils, the proportion of St Mary’s children entitled to a free school lunch is far higher than the UK average.
“It’s shocking to think that a number of children and our families are struggling to make ends meet and are struggling to provide the food that they need for their families,” Claire Mitchell, part of the school’s leadership team, told AFP.
Other families who ought to benefit from free school meals cannot because they earn above the cut-off point, which stands at £7,400 ($9,163) per year in England.
“The threshold is just set too low, and is out of step with the other devolved nations in the UK,” according to Stephanie Slater, founder and chief executive of charity School Food Matters.
“In Northern Ireland, the threshold is £14,000 pounds. In Scotland and Wales they are just beginning to roll out universal free school meals, meaning that every child in every school will eventually get a free meal at lunchtime.”
By comparison, just over one-third of pupils in England benefit from the assistance worth about £2.40 a day.
And according to the Child Poverty Action Group, one in three children in England which it says live in poverty do not qualify.