We campaign for free school meals for all children who need them, regardless of their parents’ immigration status
Denying children access to free school meals is one of the many ways No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) conditions discriminate against migrant families. Whether a child is able to eat should not depend on their carers’ immigration status or where they were born.
The government has confirmed that thousands more children are now eligible for free school meals provision during the COVID-19 pandemic. Free school meals will now be available to:
- Children whose families have no recourse to public funds and receive support under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 from their local authority;
- Children from families who have been granted leave to remain through the family or private life route subject to a no recourse to public funds restriction;
- Children with Zambrano carers – Zambrano carers are all non-EEA national primary carers of British Citizen children. A person does not need to have their Zambrano rights formally recognised through having a card or documentation in order to be a Zambrano carer;
- Children of families receiving section 4 support – Section 4 is support given to some refused asylum seekers.
We have written a letter for headteachers to let them know that changes to the eligibility criteria means that many families with NRPF are now eligible for this support during the Covid-19 pandemic. Please share widely and send to your schools. The letter is available if you click here.
The changes in eligibility are fantastic news for many families, but free school meals still do not reach every child who needs this help. In particular, children who are undocumented and from families not currently receiving Section 17 or Section 4 support are still excluded. Free school meals should reach every child who needs them during and after the pandemic.
Update 21 April 2020
We have published a report, sharing our experience advocating for destitute children that are denied free school meals because of their family’s immigration status: ‘Children with No Recourse to Public Funds: The need for free school meals’. The report is based on our experience working with families who are unable to access welfare benefits because of their immigration status, revised in light of COVID-19 to also explore some of the implications of the pandemic for low income families with NRPF.
Since the publication of this report the DfE has extended free school meals to all families receiving section 4 support and some families with no recourse to public funds who have a household income below £7,400 per year. We are shocked at how outrageously low this threshold is.
The income of families receiving Universal Credit who are eligible for free school meals is around £18,000 – £24,000 per year. Undocumented children who are not receiving section 4 or section 17 support continue to be completely excluded. The change to the free school meals eligibility criteria continues to discriminate against children from families with no recourse to public funds.
Why we are campaigning for free school meals
Hackney Migrant Centre has been carrying out free school meals advocacy on behalf of children from families with NRPF for over three years.
The current system gives children free school meals only if their parents or carers are receiving one of a list of benefits. As people with NRPF cannot access the safety net of benefits, these families are left vulnerable to the most extreme poverty. On top of this their children are then also excluded from free school meals.
We campaign to ensure that no child risks skipping meals and that no family is pushed into further destitution because their children need to eat at school. A child’s ability to access enough food to enjoy their school day should not depend on their parents’ immigration status or what their carers earn.
From August 2018 to November 2019 we advocated on behalf of 98 children, attending 70 schools in 21 boroughs. We are happy to have secured free school meals for over 65% of them.
Our advocacy provides an evidence base that campaigners and activists can use to prove the harm that NRPF causes, and to demand national policy change to how free school meals are given.
We have documented our advocacy in detail to support North East London Migrant Action’s free school meals campaign which calls for free school meals for all who need them regardless of immigration status.
More about this campaign
Only 15.4% of children claimed free school meals in England in 2018 yet it is estimated that 30% of children in the UK are living in poverty. Amongst the children living in poverty who are not getting free school meals the poorest children can be found – those whose carers have NRPF and are struggling, or children in undocumented families who are often completely financially dependent on friends and charitable handouts.
Families receiving Section 17 support from their local council are sometimes placed in bed and breakfasts with no cooking facilities. The ability to prepare food when a family is in inadequate accommodation is already a huge challenge, and when combined with tiny budgets it results in school meals being both essential and completely unaffordable.
All the children that we advocate for are destitute. Many are homeless and have found themselves sofa surfing: sharing beds or sleeping in the living rooms of friends or family members on a temporary basis. Around half of the children living in private rented accommodation are in severely overcrowded conditions with between three and six people sharing a bedroom.
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