Nearly 1,000 extra pupils eligible for free school meals during pandemic in this area, new figures show

Nearly 1,000 children in the East Riding became eligible for free school meals during the coronavirus pandemic, figures show.

Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 8:38 am
Department for Education figures suggest that the pandemic led to a spike in the number of youngsters qualifying for free school meals, increasing from 740 in autumn 2019 to 977 in autumn last year. Photo: PA Images

The Children’s Society described the increase in eligible children as worrying and said the figures highlight the damaging impact of Covid-19 on struggling families.

Department for Education figures suggest that the pandemic led to a spike in the number of youngsters qualifying for free school meals, increasing from 740 in autumn 2019 to 977 in autumn last year.

In the East Riding, 34% of pupils at special schools, 16% at state-funded primaries and 16% at state-funded secondaries received free school meals.

Azmina Siddique from The Children’s Society called for the scheme to be extended further to permanently incorporate low-income families that are not currently eligible.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said it was always likely more pupils would become eligible during the pandemic.

She added: “That’s why we have ensured that throughout this period, schools have continued to accept applications for free school meals, providing meals to anyone who becomes newly eligible, including while pupils were learning remotely.”

Nationally, more than 1.6m children were eligible for free school meals in October 2020, up from 1.4m in January of that year.

They represent almost a fifth of all pupils and more than 300,000 of them, including those just starting school, became eligible after the first lockdown was announced in March 2020.

Over the same period in 2019 around 209,000 youngsters became eligible. The figures include those that may have been eligible previously but whose latest claim started since the first lockdown began.