Free school meals can’t simply be flavour of the month

While cafes, bars and restaurants have stepped forward to provide half-term meals for some of the most disadvantaged children in society, the government continues to dig its heels in over the call to provide free-school meals during holidays.

Footballer Marcus Rashford spearheaded a campaign which led to a U-Turn earlier in the year but, despite increasing criticism from within Conservative ranks, Boris Johnson’s government has so far refused to budge in the Autumn half-term break. And that means the parents and carers of around 1.3m vulnerable children are going without vouchers this week.

Vouchers are only a short-term solution in the fight to combat child food poverty and, in any case, not every section of society is eligible to receive free-school meals. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK shores, children from families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) were unable to access free school meals after year two, despite often being from the most poverty stricken communities.

NRPF is a standard condition applied to citizens with a temporary immigration status, and ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’ status is seen as the threshold to unlock public funds and free school meals. There are estimated to be over 200,000 children in NRPF families.

Pressure groups have campaigned to disconnect free school meals from immigration status but it took legal action in April to extend free meals to all, but this is not a permanent situation.

In September the government temporarily extended free school meals to include some NRPF groups, including children of families in the UK who remain under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The blights of housing poverty and food poverty often go hand in hand, and sadly the grip is harder for some to loosen than others.

Yes, food for vulnerable children during the half-term holiday is an imperative, but so is eradicating child hunger in 21st century Britain, and that is a huge battle we face.