Mitcham and Morden worst in London for poor children missing out on free school meals
A shocking report has revealed more than two-thirds of children living in poverty in Mitcham and Morden are missing out on free school meals – the highest percentage in any London constituency.
A report by the Children’s Society revealed 68 per cent of children living in poverty in Mitcham and Morden are not receiving a free school meal, despite parents earning a wage that places them below the poverty line.
The charity found 5,100 children living in the constituency, whose parents were on low incomes, were not registered for free school meals because strict criteria means they are not entitled.
Comparatively Wimbledon constituency is listed as having the lowest percentage of children living in poverty not receiving a free school meal in London, highlighting the dramatic split in the borough.
Currently only children whose parents work less than 24 hours a week, 16 for a single parent, or if they are entitled to certain benefits including income support, job seekers allowance or employment support allowance, are able to claim free school dinners.
However the strict criteria means thousands of children whose parents do go out to work, but still earn a low wage, are missing out.
The findings have prompted calls from the charity and MPs for the Government to change the criteria giving all families in receipt of universal benefit – a new single benefit payment for low income families and those looking for work set to be introduced – the right to free school meals.
MP for Mitcham and Morden, Siobhain McDonagh, said: “Although this is an issue that affects more children in other parts of London than in Mitcham and Morden, it is clear thousands of children are missing out on free school meals because their parents go out to work.
“They don’t earn a lot, but they earn too much to get free school meals.
“It’s important for our young people to eat well if they are to learn properly, and I think it’s right to look into ways to help low-paid working families like increasing the eligibility for free school meals.”
The charity has estimated the cost of providing school meals to be £370 a year, per child.
Councillor Maxi Martin, cabinet member for children’s services at Merton Council said: “We have a large number of people on low incomes in Merton who are not eligible for free school meals under the current criteria.
“Locally, we are working closely with schools to promote free school meals and, through our website, have made the application process more discrete to help ensure that all eligible children are registered.”