Sharp rise in Islington pupils needing free school meals

File photo dated 28/08/09 of a school meal being served as around 900,000 children from low-income f

Redbridge saw a 13 per cent increase in the number of school pupils eligible for free school meals between 2019/20 and 2020/21, according to government figures. - Credit: PA

Shocking official figures show Islington has the second-highest percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals in the country.

Recently released Department for Education figures also show a 17 per cent rise of children in need of free school meals in the borough, from 7,938 in 2019/2020 to 9,297 in 2020/21. 

More than a third of Islington pupils (38.3 per cent) are now eligible, a figure which was 31pc in 2015/16 and was on the decrease until 2017/18.

The only local authority in the country with a higher percentage is Blackpool (38.6pc). 

Cllr Michelline Ngongo, Islington's executive member for children and families, said the pandemic has "made life tougher for families across the borough". 

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She added: "Islington Council is focused on providing the best possible start in life for young people in our borough and that includes tackling food poverty."

The councillor said Islington has continued to offer support throughout the pandemic with financial assistance and council tax support, as well as continuing to provide free school meals. 

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Since 2009, the council has provided universal free school meals to all nursery and primary school children, aged three and above.

It also provides additional support to free school meal families, including grants for school uniforms and post-16 provision. 

Cllr Ngongo criticised government plans to withdraw the £20 a week uplift for Universal Credit, due to expire in September. 

She said the move was "unacceptable".

“Islington Council was one of the UK’s first local authorities to call for the fundamentally flawed Universal Credit system to be scrapped, and the Covid-19 pandemic has again exposed the failure of the system to adequately support those in need," the councillor added. 

Islington follows a national trend which saw 300,000 more pupils in the UK become eligible for free school meals between January 2020 and 2021. 

Meanwhile, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “There are currently around 1.7 million pupils benefiting from a nutritious free school meal through our eligibility criteria. We are also continuing to support pupils in disadvantaged areas through our Breakfast Clubs programme, which we are extending over the next two years.

“Outside of term-time, our expanded Holiday Activities and Food programme is providing thousands of disadvantaged children healthy food and enriching activities in every local authority in England.”

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