Yesterday we revealed how families have been going hungry as the Government deprives migrant children of free school meals.
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.
However many migrant children have been excluded from the crisis scheme to continue free school meals over the summer and charities told us that its 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.
Today a group of 60 organisations have written to the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, calling on him to prevent children from going hungry by permanently extending free school meals to pupils from low-income migrant families with no recourse to public funds.
The Children’s Society, Barnardo’s, The Helen Bamber Foundation, UNISON, Action for Children, Jewish Council for Racial Equality and Project 17 are among the organisations that signed the letter.
Over 100,000 children at risk
New research provided to The Children’s Society by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford reveals that at the end of 2019, an estimated 175,643 non-EEA citizens under age 18 lived in families affected by the NRPF policy, which is a significant increase on the 2016 figures that put the number at 142,496 such children.
NRPF is a condition imposed on migrant families who have not yet qualified for permanent residency in the UK. It prevents them from accessing essential welfare support, including Universal Credit, tax credits, and in many cases free school meals.
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 to not 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 policy disproportionately affects black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups and removes the safety net of welfare support from families that are likely to already be struggling financially, with additional costs such as fees for leave to remain applications.
The letter has been sent at the same time as Matthew Gold & Co Ltd. Solicitors have been instructed to challenge the eligibility criteria for free school meals, calling them discriminatory and a breach of children’s human rights.
In April this year, the Government temporarily extended free school meals to children in some families affected by the NRPF condition while the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak impacts schools – a decision which the letter’s signatories have praised as a positive step.
However, there is uncertainty over how long this vital support will continue, and the group is concerned that when this help is withdrawn, thousands of children will lose out on what could be their only nutritious meal of the day.
Increasing numbers of children at risk
Immigration solicitor Vanessa Ganguin told The London Economic that there are many families who are discriminated against by the policy, as the concession covers a narrow range categories and many low income migrant children are still missing out on free school meals.
“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.
Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research for The Children’s Society, said:
“It is unacceptable that thousands of children, whose lives have already been turned upside down by the pandemic, could lose out on free school meals. Adjusting to being back at school will already be a tremendous challenge for most, but whether a child is able to eat should not depend on their parents’ immigration status. The latest figures show that the number of children affected by the NRPF condition is increasing, meaning many more are now at risk.
“The extension of free school meals for children affected by NRPF has been a lifeline, but we know that the impact of the pandemic will be felt for years to come. The Government must permanently extend free school meals to all low-income migrant families who have no recourse to public funds, to help ensure that every child can return to school with the hope of a bright future.”
You can sign their plea to Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson to extend free school meals to all children from low income families here.
“The NRPF condition disproportionately impacts black and minority ethnic children, trapping them in poverty and curtailing their futures. We know that for many children their free school meal is the only healthy meal in their day – but the progress the Government has made by extending this vital lifeline to NRPF families will be lost unless you make this change permanent,” the letter by 60 prominent organisations pleads.
Mothers going hungry to feed their children
One of the organisations is Southall Black Sisters (SBS) who have been assisting NRPF families. 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.”
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.
Will Gavin Williamson give parents certainty?
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.
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.”