The Guardian is reporting that the government is being urged to review a policy that campaigners say bars children of virtually destitute families from receiving free school meals because of their parents’ immigration status.
Headteachers and campaigners have expressed outrage that pupils who are among the poorest in society are missing out on free school meals because their parents have no access to benefits as a part of a condition known as “no recourse to public funds” (NRPF).
One headteacher, Ian Bennett, of Downshall primary school in Ilford, Essex, has been forced to take money from his education budget to feed 12 children in this predicament in his school and is angry that children are being penalised by “harsh” immigration policies. “It doesn’t feel right to me. They need to be treated compassionately.”
Bennett has written to his local authority seeking help but was told there was no money. “Can it be right that I have to take from the maths budget to give this child food?” he said. “We are concerned about the welfare of these children. They must have an entitlement to a meal during the school day.”
The government promised to review the policy within five years but campaigners are still waiting. They are hoping the recent focus on the government’s “hostile environment” immigration policies will put pressure on ministers to revisit the NRPF condition.
“When you have children and you can’t work, there’s no money coming in, it’s very stressful,” said a mother-of-two. “You keep asking friends for money. You can’t pay them back. Every month it would be – can I stay with you? Can I stay with you? It’s been hard for the children. The school is helping us with school dinners. It’s embarrassing really. You are not able to do things by yourself – just going up and down and asking for help. It feels so bad.”
Matthew Reed, the chief executive of the Children’s Society, said: “It is shocking to think of any child going hungry at school, but the reality is that there are thousands of children in the UK living in families who are facing destitution but being denied vital benefits like free school meals – all because of their immigration status.”
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