Free school meals for children from poorer families

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Hundreds of St Helens youngsters from poverty stricken families will receive free-school meals this term, some for the first time.

More than 4,500 children across the borough will be able to tuck in as a result of the Government’s expansion of the lunch scheme.

A total of 390 of these youngsters will be from families living below the poverty line, according to figures released by a leading charity.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, welcomed the new scheme but said more help is needed to help those from underprivileged families.

He said: “The extension of free school meals to all infants in the region is a positive step forward in the fight against child poverty and shows that the Government recognises the hardship that thousands of families are facing.

“But for poor youngsters older than seven, nothing has changed.

“That’s why it is vital that ministers build on this to make sure that every child in poverty is guaranteed a free meal, whatever their age.”

Only students in reception, year one and two classes are eligible for the free meals.

This means 202,000 children across the North West will now benefit from the new measures, whereas before many low-income families were missing out if parents were earning.

The Children’s Society has lobbied through its Fair and Square campaign for free school meals for every school child living in poverty.

Free meals during term time will save cash-strapped families £370 a year, the charity said.

Nationally, free school meals will be available to more than 1.5m children than previously, including 160,000 living below the poverty line.

Earlier this year Wigan Council held a taster day to showcase the sort of food their catering provider MetroFresh would be serving up this academic year.

Latest figures show one in five Wigan children is classed as being in poverty.

At a recent meeting of the full council ruling and opposition members called for urgent action to tackle this “shocking” rate.

To sign up for free meals, council officers are urging parents to visit www.wigan.gov.uk/Resident/Benefit-Grant/Free-school-meals if they have not already done so.