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Thousands of children from migrant families at risk of hunger unless free school meals are extended, charities warn

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A group of 60 organisations have written to the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP, calling on him to prevent children from going hungry by permanently extending free school meals to pupils from low-income migrant families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF).

The Children’s Society, UNISON, Action for Children and Project 17 are among the organisations that signed the letter.

New research provided to The Children’s Society by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford reveals that at the end of 2019, an estimated 175,643 non-EEA citizens under age 18 lived in families affected by the NRPF condition, which is a significant increase on the 2016 figures that put the number at 142,496 such children.

NRPF is a condition imposed on migrant families who have not yet qualified for permanent residency in the UK. It prevents them from accessing essential welfare support, including Universal Credit, tax credits, and usually free school meals.

The condition disproportionately affects black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups and removes the safety net of welfare support from families that are likely to already be struggling financially, with additional costs such as fees for leave to remain applications.

In April this year, the Government temporarily extended free school meals to children in some families affected by the NRPF condition while the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak impacts schools – a decision which the letter’s signatories have praised as a positive step.

However, there is uncertainty over how long this vital support will continue, and the group is concerned that when this help is withdrawn, thousands of children will lose out on what could be their only nutritious meal of the day.

Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research for The Children’s Society, said:

“It is unacceptable that thousands of children, whose lives have already been turned upside down by the pandemic, could lose out on free school meals. Adjusting to being back at school will already be a tremendous challenge for most, but whether a child is able to eat should not depend on their parents’ immigration status. The latest figures show that the number of children affected by the NRPF condition is increasing, meaning many more are now at risk.

“The extension of free school meals for children affected by NRPF has been a lifeline, but we know that the impact of the pandemic will be felt for years to come. The Government must permanently extend free school meals to all low-income migrant families who have no recourse to public funds, to help ensure that every child can return to school with the hope of a bright future.”

The letter has been sent at the same time Matthew Gold & Co Ltd. Solicitors have been instructed to challenge the eligibility criteria for free school meals, calling them discriminatory and a breach of children’s human rights.

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