The need for free school meals
Many children are facing hunger as a result of the Coronavirus. Job cuts and the threat of homelessness are affecting thousands. Welfare benefits and emergency government schemes may protect many families from the worst economic effects of the crisis, but children whose families have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) have no safety net.
The immigration status of their parents means they cannot claim benefits to help them survive. Many parents work in informal low-paid jobs or on zero hours contracts with no security. They are dependent on the support of friends and communities who are themselves struggling – and the impact of the virus may make continuing support impossible.
There are no figures for the number of children in this situation, but tens of thousands of adults with children have the NRPF condition. The GLA estimated that there are also 107,000 undocumented children living in London whose families cannot work or claim benefits.
These families face imminent destitution and homelessness. They need support urgently to help them survive.
Our work at Hackney Migrant Centre has highlighted the importance of free school meals to children who are living in terrible conditions as a result of NRPF. The school meal is often the only proper meal of the day, the difference between an adequate diet and hunger. At the time of our advocacy children from families with NRPF were all excluded from free school meals because they do not qualify for benefits. The cost of these meals made an enormous hole in tight budgets –a third to a quarter of their income for some families. Our advocacy has meant some schools offered free school meals to the children of families we worked with.
On 6 April 2020 we welcomed the news that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, eligibility for free school meals will be extended to many children from families with NRPF. At the date of this letter 21 April 2020, we are still waiting to see guidance from the Department for Education about how schools should provide this support. Without this guidance families with NRPF are effectively still excluded. Sadly, the extension to the free school meals eligibility criteria still overlooks the needs of thousands of extremely vulnerable children from undocumented families.
During the COVID-19 pandemic free school meals or vouchers must be made available to all children who need this support regardless of immigration status. After the pandemic, the eligibility criteria for free school meals must be reviewed so that no child living in poverty is excluded from this essential support.
To prevent children from going hungry during the current crisis and beyond Hackney Migrant Centre is calling for urgent action from schools, local authorities and government
- Free school meals or vouchers must be available to all children who need them – regardless of immigration status – during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Government must provide adequate funding for schools to provide free school meals or vouchers for all who need them during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Government must end the no recourse to public funds condition immediately and permanently to prevent families becoming destitute.
- Eligibility for free school meals must be reviewed to ensure that no children go hungry because they cannot afford school meals – including children whose parents are undocumented.
Hackney Migrant Centre’s full report Children with No Recourse to Public Funds: The need for free school meals can be downloaded here: