‘Our lives would be a complete disaster without free school meals’

Chinua had worked and earned a decent salary her entire marriage and her children had never been on free school meals. But when her husband became increasingly violent this year, she fled with her daughters to a refuge and her situation changed dramatically.

To make change happen, please sign the petition by clicking here

The mother of two, who is a university graduate says: “During Covid, my marriage spiralled out of control and I was living in fear. My husband had become more and more vicious and aggressive and one day I ended up face down on the floor in front of the girls, my face pouring with blood. I realised he had lost all restraint, that I was in real danger and had to leave. I took the children and fled with nothing but the clothes on our backs and found our way to a refuge.”

For Chinua, in her 40s, and her children, flight came at a high price. It meant she had to leave her job and that her children could never return to their school so that her husband could not find them. For several month this year, they were supported by the refuge, but now live independently in rented accommodation and the children have started a new school.

Chinua says that for her and her girls, the free school meal vouchers they have received during this time were a lifeline. “I went from earning nearly £50,000 a year to zero and having to go on universal credit. It meant I could no longer afford to give the children what they were used to. Treats were out. As were our much-loved pizza nights, where we used to buy frozen pizzas from the supermarket and cook up a treat. We couldn’t even afford that.”

Chinua gets £869 universal credit a month out of which she pays her energy, utilities, food and transport bills, but the big blow was that she also has debts of £25,000 for a house refurbishment loan on which she was paying £500 a month. “I cannot afford to pay off my loan because then we would barely have anything to live on,” she says. The banks have allowed her to reschedule some but not all of this debt – and it has been hugely stressful, she said, and has meant there is not enough money left to properly feed the children.

“The free school meal vouchers have been a godsend,” she adds. “I cannot begin to express how grateful I have been for the free school meals the girls get now and the £90 a month free school meal vouchers they got over the holidays. It literally saved their summer. The vouchers mean that I can afford them the odd treat like a chocolate and a bag of crisps. They go on the street and look for coins. I worry how we will cope over the winter with heating and the cost of living shooting up.”

The Independent’s Feed the Future campaign in partnership with a coalition of campaigning organisations co-ordinated by the Food Foundation, is calling on the government to extend free school meals to all children in poverty in England. Currently, 800,000 children live in households on universal credit but miss out on free school meals because their parents earn more than £7,400 a year, excluding benefits.

Chinua adds: “I think of children in households on universal credit who do not get free school meals and I cannot imagine their hardship and how I would cope. It makes all the difference to know that at least my girls get a hot lunch in the middle of the day. We went overnight from being self-reliant to having to rely on the generosity of others. Our lives would literally be a complete disaster without free school meals.

“The government should urgently extend free school meals to all families in poverty. I plan to get back into the workforce as soon as I can. It’s only when you get into trouble and feel desperate that you get to know how important free school meals are to families in distress.”

*Names have been changed

Related Articles

Bir cavab yazın

Sizin e-poçt ünvanınız dərc edilməyəcəkdir. Gərəkli sahələr * ilə işarələnmişdir

Back to top button