Labour MP raises concerns that poorest children will miss out on Free School Meals

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Frank Field MP has written to the education secretary with concerns about the Universal Infant Free School Meals roll-out.

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Labour MP Frank Field has written to the education secretary with concerns about free school meals

The Labour MP is worried that poorer children will miss out on free school meals despite them being made available for all infant pupils from next month.

In his letter to the education secretary Nicky Morgan, Mr Field warns that some schools will be providing free school meals on a ‘first come, first served basis’ because they do not have the capacity to cook meals for all their pupils.  This could mean that large numbers of poor children go hungry.

He also raises a concern that schools will no longer register pupils as disadvantaged when infant meals are universally free, which could have an adverse impact on support for these children through the loss of Pupil Premium funding.

Mr Field refers to findings from the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty, which he co-chairs, that revealed currently up to 38 per cent of disadvantaged children eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) across the country are missing out because they have not been registered.

He asks the education secretary whether every local authority will be encouraged to follow the lead taken by Sunderland City Council, which automatically registers all eligible children for FSM without the need for parents to fill out an application form.

The Labour MP goes on to say he is also worried that schools will be less able to provide free school meals for eligible older pupils because they will have to divert their limited resources into providing meals for all four- to seven-year-olds.

Mr Field concludes by asking the education secretary for assurances that poorer children will not go hungry as a result of the ‘botched’ introduction of Universal Infant Free School Meals.

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'Schools have a statutory duty to provide free school meals to eligible pupils. There is no evidence to suggest extending this to all infant pupils will negatively impact on those children.

'In fact the independent evaluation of the universal free school meal pilots reported increased rates of take-up among all pupils, including those who had previously been eligible for a free meal but had not taken one.

'We have provided significant financial support to schools to help them deliver the policy, including over £1 billion over the next two years to pay for the costs of providing the meals. Schools and local authorities have also received additional money to help upgrade facilities and councils can decide whether they should top this up from their general maintenance budgets.'