Central Beds Council to lobby government over access to free school meals as working families struggle to get help

"Children who happen to be in food poverty in working families find it difficult to access help”
A school chef serves cooked hot dinner to a student (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)A school chef serves cooked hot dinner to a student (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)
A school chef serves cooked hot dinner to a student (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Central Beds Council is set to lobby the Government over the eligibility and quality of free school meals.

“Some 800,000 children living in poverty in England don’t receive free school meals because of the strict criteria,” according to Independent Flitwick councillor Gareth Mackey, who called on Central Bedfordshire Council to lobby the government.

“There’s a very low threshold of around £7,400 income per family for when children become eligible,” he told an extraordinary full council meeting.

“This means that children who happen to be in food poverty in working families find it difficult to access help,” he explained.

“It’s something I feel very passionate about. Education and giving children the right setting in which to learn is of the utmost importance.

“The motion covers lobbying government to ensure the funding provided in those school meals is adequate.

“I understand the calls on the public purse are extensive. The government should return to its core mission to work daily to improve the lot of the citizens of this country, which includes investing in children.

“I’m not asking for this council to spend any money. All I’m suggesting is we write to the government asking it to address this issue and follow it up, if there’s no response.”

A political storm broke when councillor Mackey’s previous motion to a full council meeting was deferred and compared to the ruling group’s support for increases in councillor allowances.

He described it as “deeply regrettable” if some aspects “unnecessary to debate detracting from the important issues being talked about” emerged before, which “wasn’t the intended outcome”.

Seconding the motion, Independent Biggleswade South councillor Hayley Whitaker said: “This council can’t solve it all. The government does have a role to play.

“This has never been more important. Food poverty is hitting more families and affecting an increasing number of children. It will also promote learning.

“Free school meals are stigmatised at school. By offering these to all primary aged children will remove that stigma because everyone will be in the same boat.”

Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor and deputy council leader Sue Clark said: “The importance of good and healthy food is well recognised as a key to ensuring children have the best chance of a healthy life and to be ready to learn to do well at school.

“We recognise the fundamental objective of your motion is to increase access to high quality food for our vulnerable children.

“We all want to support our vulnerable families, especially this winter when things are particularly hard.

“This is a national issue as your motion quite rightly recognises. We agreed at the executive meeting to champion the needs of vulnerable children, and encourage the government to improve the quality of free school meals and the eligibility.

“It was agreed to write to the Secretary of State for Education and support the Local Government Association proposals to ease the sign-up process for free school meals. It’s all school age children, not just primary.”

Councillors unanimously approved the motion to lobby government.