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'They're Literally Starving Us' – Families Of Kids On Free School Meals Speak Out

Léonie Chao-Fong
·2-min read

Since the government voted not to extend the free school meals voucher scheme last week, the country has been embroiled in an emotive, polarised and often poisonous debate over the subject.

As communities and businesses across the country banded together to feed the nation’s kids, and politicians on both sides busied themselves with mudslinging, there is one perspective in the free school meals saga that has been noticeably absent: that of the families who need them.

About 1.4m children in England were eligible for free school meals in January 2020, and a recent analysis by the Food Foundation estimates a further 900,000 children have sought free school meals since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the end of the furlough scheme mere days away, the number of families facing destitution will only rise as will the number of children at risk of hunger and malnutrition. For some, a free school meal could be their only meal of the day.

A domestic abuse survivor and single mother, Joanne* from Yorkshire, says the free school meals her two teenage children qualify are, quite simply, a “godsend”.

Joanne has been signed off work since 2015, after she developed severe mental health issues and agoraphobia following years of abuse and stalking from her ex-partner.

To this day, he continues to exert power and control over her by refusing to pay child maintenance payments – leaving her and her children constantly teetering on the edge of poverty. “If my ex decides he doesn’t fancy paying and I don’t get free school meals, I’ve got nothing,” she told HuffPost UK.

For six weeks during the first lockdown, Joanne’s ex-partner stopped sending her money; he currently owes her £2,000 in child maintenance.

Families like ours are not what we are made out to be.Joanne

Without these payments, she and her 13- and 15-year-old kids had to live on the £180 she receives each week from her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

“I try my best like...

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