Children receiving free school meals nears 22,000 in Suffolk

A Suffolk councillor is campaigning for free school meals to continue being provided during school h

The number of children needing free school meals in Suffolk has seen a vast increase of nearly 3000 in the past year. - Credit: PA

The number of children in Suffolk requiring free school meals has reached nearly 22,000, an increase of almost 3,000 in the space of a year.

Free school meals are a government scheme for children who come from families that are on low income, or receive a number of financial-based benefits.

Henry Wilson MBE, chief executive officer of Reach Haverhill, an organisation which is tackling poverty in the area, said: "On one hand it could sound shocking that there are that many people in need, but when I heard this originally, I did contact Suffolk County Council to find out why this was, and they told me that they had been very proactive in promoting the service which may well contribute to the increased numbers of children receiving free school meals.

"But on the other hand, it is naturally worrying because when schools are closed over the holidays it is going to be very difficult for many families.

"Since September this year, we have seen a sharp increase in people coming to us for emergency food, and that’s before the Universal Credit top-up was stopped."

While the country continues to recover from the effects of the pandemic, families may still find themselves struggling.

Mr Wilson added: "I do think that the worst is yet to come. Inflation is running very high, the cost of utilities is rising, the drop in the Universal Credit top-up are all conspiring against low income families that are already struggling with putting food on the table. 

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"All that said, we are well placed to help local families get through the winter period and beyond.  We are working tirelessly to improve our systems to ensure that families who need the help get it."

In order to tackle this issue Suffolk County Council has initiatives like the Local Welfare Assistance scheme, as well as other programmes aimed at helping those in need in the area.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: "Since the start of the pandemic the team have distributed 93,919 supermarket vouchers at a total cost of £3,112,920 which has been covered by various government funds to support low income families and individuals.”

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