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Ipswich: Thousands of school children missing out on free lunches despite living in poverty

PUBLISHED: 12:20 07 March 2013 | UPDATED: 12:20 07 March 2013

Hundreds of children are missing out on free school meals

Hundreds of children are missing out on free school meals

MORE than 2,500 children living in poverty in Ipswich are missing out on their entitlement to a free school meal, a leading children’s charity warned today.

The figure equates to 52% of those youngsters living below the poverty line.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that schools across Suffolk could miss out on up to £5million in extra Government funding if parents of children eligible for free school meals don’t sign up.

Under the Government’s Pupil Premium scheme, schools receive hundreds of pounds in extra funding for every eligible child. However, official estimates suggest that as many as 32% of those eligible in Suffolk do not take up the support.

Councillor Graham Newman, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education and young people, said: “It is difficult to overstate just how much of a win-win situation is created when eligible parents claim free school meals for their children.

“Not only do they save money, their children get a hot meal at lunchtime and the school benefits from significant sums of additional money.”

The Children’s Society estimates there are 2,600 children currently living in poverty in Ipswich who are missing out on free school meals. In the Suffolk Coastal area there are 1,600, around 1,800 in Suffolk West, 1,400 in Suffolk South, 1,400 in Suffolk Central and North Ipswich, 2,600 in Waveney, and 1,200 in Bury St Edmunds.

Across the whole of the East of England, almost 115,000 children in poverty are not receiving the benefit.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said: “It is particularly difficult to get people to apply who are working but on the breadline and could be eligible for free school meals. Also immigrant families or those who have a poor grasp of English.

“I would urge everyone who thinks that they might be eligible to apply. It is better for your family budget, at pretty minimal cost to the taxpayer. Also the pupil premium that the school can claim is a significant amount of money for schools, which can go towards funding more staff.”

Jeremy Pentreath, headteacher at The Oaks Primary School in Ipswich, added: “We have tried to make things as easy as possible. We have offered to fill out the forms, it’s on our website, and we regularly send out letters to encourage people to apply.

“It is a big focus for heads and even more so because of the pupil premiums. The money can be spent on teaching resources to benefit the children, and if they have full tummies as well, that has an enormous impact on their learning.”

The Children’s Society is calling on the government to make free school meals available to all children in poverty.

Is there enough support for children in poverty? Write to Your Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.

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