It has been revealed that over 100,000 disabled children in the UK have missed out on free school meals due to reasons out of their control, adding strain to families’ cost of living budgets. One Labour MP is fighting for change. Here’s the full story.
Equality as a Basic Right
Labour MP Ian Byrne has led a crucial Westminster Hall debate revealing the challenges faced by families of disabled children in accessing free school meals, despite being eligible.
Byrne said that “access to food is a basic human right” and called out the UK schools not complying with equality laws. Analysis reveals that over 100,000 eligible disabled children are missing out on the essential support meant to be provided through free school meals.
The Battle for Basic Necessities
According to Byrne, families of disabled children should not be forced into a battle for a fundamental necessity.
“It must be made clear that schools and councils need to provide an alternative, ideally a supermarket voucher, to disabled children who can’t access a free school meal in the regular way,” he said.
Disability charity Contact estimates that more than 100,000 eligible disabled children are unable to access free school meals, resulting in a financial gap of £570 per year. This deprivation is pushing families into debt and leading them to turn to food banks for support.
Research by Contact in March 2023 revealed that 60% of disabled children cannot consume school meals due to health conditions, dietary requirements, or sensory processing difficulties.
Unveiling the Hidden Impact
Children with conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, and autism are missing out on crucial financial aid, contributing to the stress and challenges faced by their families.
In response to the debate, Schools Minister Damian Hinds acknowledged that “some pupils with additional needs may require special food provision or food arrangements.”
He called out schools’ duties under the Equalities Act 2010, “All schools have duties under the Equalities Act 2010 towards individual, disabled children and young people. They must make reasonable adjustments to prevent them being put at a substantial disadvantage.”
Ministerial Commitment and Ongoing Watchfulness
Ian Byrne expressed gratitude for the minister’s commitment to updating the guidance, aiming to avoid confusion and clarify schools’ duties under the Equalities Act.
“I’d like to thank the minister for his response and for agreeing to update the current free school meals guidance so it avoids any confusion and makes it quite clear schools’ duties to make reasonable adjustments under the Equalities Act.” Byrne pledged to keep the minister accountable, by saying he’ll be “keeping [the minister’s] feet to the fire.”
Grassroots Advocacy and Positive Outcomes
Natalie Hay, founder of the inclusive free school meals campaign, has been advocating for three years, realising that many eligible disabled children were missing out on their free lunch, despite receiving supermarket vouchers during lockdown.
Her grassroots efforts have led to the formation of an online support group, comprising over 2,700 affected family members. Hay’s legal action on behalf of families across the UK has contributed to a positive and equitable outcome for 2,000 disabled children who were initially missing out on their free school meals.
Now, the focus is on achieving a similar outcome for the tens of thousands of other disabled children who are unfairly excluded from this crucial support. Hay said she was “delighted that after three years campaigning, this issue is getting the attention it deserves.
Following my legal action on behalf of families across the UK, a positive and equitable outcome is on the horizon for 2000 disabled children missing out on their free school meals. Now we want the same outcome for the tens of thousands of others unfairly missing out on this vital support.”
Urgent Government Intervention
Anna Bird, Chief Executive at Contact, stressed the urgency of government intervention.
She thanked Ian Byrne for championing the issue, “The current free school meals scheme is inaccessible to tens of thousands of eligible disabled children. We are grateful to Ian Byrne MP for championing this issue for affected families up and down the country.”
Bird urged the government to act swiftly and update its free school meals guidance to make clear that local authorities and schools are legally entitled to offer reasonable adjustments to children who can’t have their free school meal in the regular way, such as providing supermarket vouchers.”
Bird also acknowledged the strain that a lack of free school meals has on struggling families’ budgets, “Almost all affected families say that missing out on school meals increased pressure on their weekly budgets. At a time when grocery bills are sky high, it’s vital that families get all the help they are entitled to without having to fight for it.”
The post Disabled Children in UK Are Missing Out on Free School Meals, Now It’s Time to Change That first appeared on Edge Media.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Africa Studio.