Is Newcastle City Council maximising universal free school meal take up ahead of half-term holiday food voucher scheme? Liberal Democrats Opposition seeking assurance

February 12, 2021 12:00 PM

Christine Morrissey Grange schoolLiberal Democrats councillors are calling on Newcastle City Council to look into ways to do more to increase take up of universal free school meals, following data showing that only 70% of under 7s who are eligible to take up universal FSM actually do so, and only 50% of over 7s entitled to a free school meal choose to receive one.

Although Government help including food voucher provision has been made available via the council for school holidays following the campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford, the Liberal Democrats Opposition believes more research is needed into the effect of the current non-availability of term-time free school meals during lockdown amid fears that this could have an impact on the nutrition of less well off children in Newcastle.

The Opposition spokesperson for schools Cllr Christine Morrissey, who is Libereral Democrats councillor for Parklands Wrad, where there are 6 schools, believes the council should do more to monitor take up and consider ways it can be increased. Currently, free school meal provision is being administered by a separate directorate at the council, not the children education and schools directorate, and the Opposition believes a more joined up approach would be beneficial.

She said: "Free school meal provision is available when schools are open, but it would appear that around half of over 7s entitled to receive a hot meal at lunchtime are actually choosing to do so, and three in ten under 7s do not take up their universal free school meal. For some, this may be the most nutritious meal of the day, so it is vital that we increase take up. Better nourished children are healthier and better able to learn.

"I'd like to know what the council is doing to raise take up levels in our schools at a time when it is reducing the subsidy for school meals. I think it can do more to ensure no child misses out as a result of being unaware of entitlement, social stigma, or bureaucratic oversight. I'm also keen to explore what measures have been implemented to help families during lockdown when many have experienced drastic cuts in income.

As we approach what would be half term, when food vouchers are substituting for school lunches, I'm seeking assurances that proactive work is being done to encourage households who are entitled to extra help to benefit from it. No children in our city should be going hungry, and it is not the fault of children if families are struggling to cope financially. The council should be working to narrow the gap in take up."