Some pupils in Calderdale who could claim free school meals five years ago are no longer eligible for them, according to new figures.
Children can claim free school meals if their parents receive certain benefits and as the number of benefit claimants in England has dropped in recent years, thousands of children have lost their right to free meals at school lunchtimes.
Newly released figures from the Department for Education show that 344 fewer children in Calderdale’s state primaries and secondaries were receiving free school meals in January this year than in 2013, despite the school population growing overall.
The Child Poverty Action Group warned that the drop risked leaving some children without their only hot meal of the day.
Alison Garnham, the charity’s chief executive said: “At a time when more children are growing up in poverty, fewer are getting the help they need with free school meals. Out of a class of 30 kids, nine are growing up in poverty and six of these have working parents.
“When parents earn just above the threshold for a free meal children are at risk of losing what might be their only hot balanced meal of the day.
“School meals should be free for all as an important part of the school day - we don’t see patients in hospital being means tested before they are given a meal.
“At the very least, the rules must be changed so that all families entitled to Universal Credit get free school meals, including many working families.”
The figures show in nurseries and primary schools, the percentage of children claiming free school meals increased slightly. Five years ago, 17.2 per cent of Calderdale's children were eligible for and claiming free school meals. By January this year, that had increased to 15.6%.
Pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 are automatically eligible for free school meals in England. From Year 3, eligibility for meals is linked to parents' benefits.
Free school meals were also claimed by fewer secondary school children in Calderdale this year. In 2013, 13.4 per cent were receiving free lunches, but by January this year it had dropped to 12.2 per cent.
Although the percentage changes are small, it effectively means that 505 pupils are missing out on free school meals in Calderdale.
Across England, 13.2 per cent of primary and secondary pupils claim free school meals. It means 290,000 fewer pupils receive free school meals than they would have done in 2013.
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