A CALL has been made for Coventry Council to pilot a scheme giving more youngsters a hot lunch during term-time after a startling report revealed 8,000 city children were living in poverty with no access to free school meals.
The study, by independent charity The Food Foundation, showed Coventry was the city in the West Midlands Combined Authority area with the second highest number of children suffering from this reality.
The Food Foundation is now calling on local leaders to extend access to free school meals by setting up a pilot scheme in their areas to ensure local children do not go hungry.
In England, free school meals are currently available to children up to the end of year two.
After that, children are entitled to free school meals if parents or guardians receive benefits including universal credit, where households have an annual income under £7,400 – a figure which unchanged since 2018.
In July, Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana handed in a letter to government signed by 90,000 people calling on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to introduce free school meals for all children.
While this attempt has so far proven unsuccessful, many local authorities are now taking matters into their own hands.
All London state primary schoolchildren are now eligible for free school meals for one academic year through emergency funding provided by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
The Food Foundation said its report provided information and data which Coventry policymakers could use to set up their own pilot to extend eligibility for free school meals.
The report showed children with access to free school meals were found to be healthier and happier, able to do better in school and earn more over their lifetime.
Shona Goudie, The Food Foundation’s policy and advocacy manager, said: “Every child in England should have an equal opportunity to learn and to be healthy, no matter where they grow up, so the Government should extend free school meals to more children across the country.
“But, in the absence of Government action, we are calling on local leaders to step in.”
The Observer contacted Coventry City Council and Zarah Sultana for comment but were yet to receive a reply by the time we went to press.