THOUSANDS of youngsters living in poverty in Sunderland and Durham are missing out on free school meals, claims a charity.
The Children’s Society says there are 2,100 children across Wearside classed as living in poverty who are not getting free school meals because their parents work in low-paid jobs, and a further 2,300 youngsters in County Durham.
Now the charity has launched a campaign, Fair and Square, calling for Government changes to end this situation.
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Sunderland and Washington West and Shadow Minister for Children and Families, said: “Families on low incomes in Sunderland are facing the biggest squeeze under this Government, while millionaires get huge tax breaks.
“This report shows more than 2,000 children in Sunderland are missing out on free school meals because David Cameron scrapped the roll-out of free school meals to children in working poverty within days of taking office.
“As well as being good for children, in ensuring they got a filling and nutritious meal, this would also have been a real boost for struggling families, giving them one less thing to worry about.”
The Children’s Society says many children living in poverty, particularly those in low-income working households, aren’t entitled to receive a free school meal, simply because their parents are in work.
The charity says if the Government expands entitlement to free school meals to all families receiving the new Universal Credit, which comes into force next month to replace all benefits, a further 100,000 children would be entitled.
For some children, a free school lunch may be the only proper meal they get and for parents in poverty, finding the £370-a-year needed for each child’s school meal often means struggling to provide their children with the basics, including buying them shoes for school and heating the home, says the charity.
The Children’s Society chief executive, Matthew Reed, said: “It is shocking that huge numbers of children in poverty in the North East are missing out on a free school meal.
“Every child in poverty should be entitled to this vital support. We know from the families we work with up and down the country that parents are struggling to make ends meet.”
For more information about The Children’s Society’s Fair and Square campaign, which has already attracted 90,000 signatures of support, visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk/fairandsquare.