The number of children eligible for free school meals in Bolton has rocketed by more than 100 per month this year, councillors have heard.
The impact of rapidly rising foodenergy and fuel prices on families was laid bare in the shocking figures showing so far in 2022 hundreds of household incomes in the borough have fallen below the threshold which makes them entitled to the support.
Bolton’s education chief said that so far this year the number of children eligible had risen ‘every month’ with an additional 679 children now claiming free meals. T
The total number of free school meal children in Bolton on January 1 was 12,603 and presently there are 13,282.
Calls were made at a meeting of Bolton’s full council for all school age children to be given free school meals. However Cllr Anne Galloway, cabinet member for education said that would cost an additional £12.3M per year and ‘is probably not the wisest use of taxpayer money’.
Raising the issue was Cllr Elaine Sherrington.
She said: “Teachers know that they need to have children who can concentrate when they’re at school.
“They can only concentrate is they have been well fed. The number getting free school meals is going up.
“I’m asking for a pledge to give every child in the borough a free school meal and if parents want to opt out they can. Now is the time that this should be happening if we are serious about our children becoming inspired at school.
“To fulfil their ambitions in life we need to have them well fed.”
Cllr Galloway, said: “The number of children receiving free school meals in January was 12,603 and the number has increased each month totalling 679 extra children. The funding required for free school meals does not come out of the council budget. It’s calculated as part fo the schools national funding formula so schools will receive increased funding for any new children eligible.
“As for your proposal to offer free meals to all children in the borough. This would cost around £12.3M a year at a time of huge financial pressures for councils to spend nearly a quarter of our departmental budget in such a targeted way is probably not the wisest use of taxpayer money.”
National figures up to January this year show the the number of children eligible for free school meals has risen to 1,897,449, an increase of 49 per cent over the 1,270,914 children eligible in 2019.
Throughout the country nearly one quarter of school students, 22.5 per cent are now eligible for free schools meals.