Free school meals: The families ‘training’ the way they eat so their children won’t go hungry

Faith Agnwet says she has learned to “train the way” she eats in school holidays. By managing to eat less, it means her children – aged five and two – do not go hungry.

And with the summer break fast approaching, she is worried.

Her five-year-old son qualifies for free school meals during term time like nearly two million other children in England.

Despite the cost-of-living crisis, the government has so far resisted calls to extend the scheme during summer as they did during the first year of the Covid pandemic.

But for Agnwet, times are tough – and are only getting tougher.

The single parent says she will “struggle” without any extra help to make sure her children are fed during the six-week holidays.

“It’s definitely something I think about: how will I keep them going?” she says.

While she would usually bulk buy to keep costs down during school breaks, she has not been able to afford that this year as supermarket prices soar.

“It’s come to the point where sometimes when I’m clearing out the closet, I find things that I bulk bought in and that’s what actually keeps me going,” the single parent from Southwark tells The Independent.

Over in west London, Aurora* is also worried about what this summer will bring.

The widowed parent says her children – aged seven and 13 – have been receiving free school meals for “as long as I can remember”.

And, during the cost-of-living crisis, she says it would help if this support continued throughout summer.

“I have calculated everything, I wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for school meals,” the 40-year-old, who has just started a new job as a care assistant on a zero-hours contract, tells The Independent.

“Universal credit just isn’t enough as it is. My rent is really high. Because I live in London, we would really struggle.”

Currently, children can access free food in school holidays through government-funded activities clubs, which usually run for four weeks during the summer.

But Aurora says this is not a viable solution for her children due to the cost of travel.

Around 495,000 children on free school meals in term-time – less than a third of those eligible – attended last summer holidays, according to official statistics.

“I was offered a summer club last year. But the fact is, I would have had to pay £20 a week to go,” Aurora, who lives in Ealing says.

“Although it was in my borough, it was not within walking distance. My youngest’s school is already almost two miles away.”

The 46-year-old NHS worker says free school meal vouchers are ‘definitely’ needed this summer

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