One in eight York children are receiving free school meals – as data shows the number of pupils eligible has hit a record high.
Children are entitled to free school meals if their parent or carer is on benefits, with a household income of less than £7,400 a year.
Since the start of lockdown on March 23, 2020, 767 York children have become eligible.
The majority are primary school pupils, but 206 are at secondary school, 13 at special schools, seven in pupil referral units and two of the newly eligible children are at nursery.
Iain Porter from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says the pandemic has hit many families hard despite “significant measures taken by the Government”.
He said: “The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the incomes of many families as shown by the dramatic rise in the number of children eligible for free school meals in York.
“Despite significant measures taken by the Government to protect incomes, millions of families across the country have experienced real hardship over recent months.
“The events of recent months has also shone a spotlight on the fact that the wider support available to families going into the pandemic was inadequate.
“That is why it’s vital that the Government does not weaken our social security system further by cutting Universal Credit by £20 a week in October.”
The number of children eligible for free school meals in York is the highest since records began, with 3,349 pupils eligible in January – 13 per cent of all state school students.
Danesgate Community pupil referral unit has the highest proportion of children on free school meals – 43.8 per cent. Wheldrake with Thorganby Church of England Primary School has the lowest, with 0.5 per cent receiving free school meals.
Serious economic impact
York Outer MP Julian Sturdy says the data shows that Covid restrictions are hitting economic activity and damaging low income households.
He said: “These figures are an important reminder of the serious economic impact Covid has had on our city, and strengthen the need to get the local economy firing on all cylinders again, which will benefit struggling households most by creating jobs and raising wages.
“Here is clear evidence that continuing Covid restrictions and suspending normal economic activity is damaging low income homes.
“These numbers also highlight the very substantial support the government has put in place to aid affected families, beyond free school meals including the £400 million package to help households with children with food and bills announced in November and running to June, welcomed by campaigner Marcus Rashford.”
“Over £1 million has been allocated to some 1,996 families in York. Universal Credit benefits were also increased by £1,040 a year, a rise extended for another six months in the March budget, something I lobbied Ministers on privately.”
York Central MP Rachael Maskell said: No child should go without and this sharp rise in children depending on free school meals is but one measure of failure to meet the needs families face today.
“While free school meals are essential to ensure that our young people are able to get a good nutritious meal each day, the failure of Government to address low family income cannot be ignored.
“The Government has repeatedly promised better wages, but has failed to deliver them, and are now set to cut Universal Credit by £20 a week, causing even greater hardship to those most in need.”