Funding call over free school meals

By on 28/07/2009 in News

Birmingham's head of children's services Cllr Les Lawrence has called on the Government to recognise the extra strain being placed on council budgets by an increase in children qualifying for free school meals.

The rise is a direct result of the current economic recession and rising unemployment figures as workers find themselves being made redundant.

Birmingham has been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn with the closure of a number of companies including LDV and widespread redundancies across its auto, manufacturing, property, construction, retail and business services sectors.

The city already has an above average proportion of pupils on free school meals - more than 33 per cent currently compared to a national average of 14 per cent for 2007/08.

Cllr Lawrence, Birmingham City Council's Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families, said: “It is important that children eat healthily and nutritiously and this is what we seek to provide with our school dinners.

“Those whose families can not afford to pay for school meals should not be excluded which is why there is free provision for these families.

“But in the current tough economic climate there is more pressure on the school dinner service but the amount of money we receive from the Government has remained static.

“Clearly there is a funding gap and at the moment we are having to utilise already strained budgets to plug the deficit.

“If Ministers are serious about the health and well-being of some of our most vulnerable young citizens I urge them to provide additional funds for free school meals as a matter of urgency.”

Figures released earlier this month (July) show the West Midlands has the worst unemployment rate in the UK at 10.3 per cent.

The jobless rate in the country as a whole is now the highest since the mid-1990s with about 2.4 million out of work following the biggest quarterly rise ever of 281,000.

Recent research by Local Government Association shows 15 per cent of English councils have seen an increase in requests for free school meals.

Currently 52,524 or 33.4 per cent of Birmingham's 157,035 schoolchildren of all ages qualify for free school meals - a figure that is likely to grow as the unemployment rate continues to rise.

ENDS

Further information from Shahid Naqvi 0121 303 3635.

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