Boris Johnson was forced into a U-turn on continuing free school meals for lower income children over the summer after a high-profile campaign by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford. Food banks had been reporting an increase in malnutrition as the Covid crisis exacerbated food poverty.
In July we reported how there were 2,483 hospital admissions of under-16s due to malnourishment between January and June this year, according to Freedom of Information responses from nearly 50 hospital trusts in England.
However many migrant children have been excluded from the crisis scheme to continue free school meals over the summer and charities told us that it’s left families in hunger.
One organisation that assists families with No Recourse To Public Funds (NRPF) due to their immigration status said that as many are excluded from free school meals they regularly see mothers who go without food to feed their children.
A Department for Education spokesperson told The London Economic: “We have temporarily extended free school meal eligibility to include some children of groups who have no recourse to public funds in light of the current unique circumstances many families face at this time. This will continue for the duration of the summer holidays and while the outbreak impacts schools, and will cover children who are attending school during term time and any who are at home as a result of the virus.”
However immigration solicitor Vanessa Ganguin told The London Economic that there would be many families who would still be discriminated against by the policy, as the concession covers a narrow range categories.
“No children should be going hungry,” said Vanessa Ganguin. “I’m sure Marcus Rashford and everyone who campaigned successfully for kids to be fed properly during the pandemic weren’t thinking certain children should be scapegoated due to where their parents were born and their immigration status.” She said many believe it is discriminatory not to allow lower income NRPF children to enjoy free school meals permanently.
The Children’s Society charity is spearheading a campaign with many other charities who believe it is discriminatory and cruel to allow many children from lower income families to be deprived of free school meals due to their parents’ immigration status.
You can add your voice to their plea to Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson to extend free school meals to all children from low income families here.
Southall Black Sisters (SBS) have been assisting NRPF families and are supporting the Children’s Society campaign. According to Southall Black Sisters who see the harm inflicted on a daily basis, the policy disproportionately afflicts BAME women and children.
SBS Director Pragna Patel told The London Economic: “There is a broad and growing consensus that the No Recourse to Public Funds policy is both unjust and inhumane; and this has been exposed clearly in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The exclusion of school children from a meal on the basis of their parents’ immigration status is a particularly stark example of the cruelty and inhumanity that lies behind the wider hostile environment policy of which it is core part.
“SBS supports women and children daily who face an uphill battle to assert their basic rights including the right to access food and shelter. We bear witness to the appalling conditions in which women and children live and often observe women going hungry so that they can feed their children.
“Many arrive at our door in various stages of fear, desperation and malnourishment. Our first priority in so many cases is to help women and children access food, shelter, clothing and medication. Without this, they would end up on the streets and at risk of their health and lives. This is why we support the campaign calling on the Education Secretary to extend eligibility for free school meals on a permanent basis to all families who need it irrespective of their immigration status. Believing in human rights means believing in the principle that every child matters.”
Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s shadow minister for children and early years, told The London Economic that children should not be facing hunger due to their parents’ immigration status.
“Extending free school meals to children affected by NRPF was a much needed move, but these children risk being left without this vital support if the extension isn’t made permanent. The Secretary of State needs to give parents certainty that this support won’t just be taken away,” insisted the Labour MP.
“Children, especially those from low income families, will have enough to deal with come September – they might feel anxious about going back to school or struggle to catch up with school work. They shouldn’t also be going hungry, simply because of their parents’ immigration status.”
Asked whether Education Secretary Gavin Williamson would look into the policy disproportionately depriving BAME women and children of free school meals and if meals would be extended to allow all children to have food security all year round, a DfE spokesperson only responded reiterating there was a concession to some of the categories during the Covid pandemic.
Boris Johnson unaware of own policy
Boris Johnson appeared not to be aware of the cruel implications of his Government’s NRPF policy when quizzed on it earlier in the year.
Labour MP Stephen Timms asked the PM why a working Pakistani couple and their British-born children should be forced into destitution when the father could not work due to his lockdown as they had no recourse to public funds and he was not being furloughed.
Boris Johnson seemed not to understand how NRPF works when he asked why they could apply for universal credit or such benefits, before promising: “we will see what we can do to help.”
The Children’s Society has previously estimated that over 100,000 children could be affected by the NRPF policy and are due to publish more up to date figures tomorrow.