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Poor children in Hampshire missing out on free school meals
MORE than 20,000 children who are living in poverty in Hampshire are missing out on free school meals, figures released today show.
Youngsters are entitled to free school meals if their parents claim income support.
But according to the new figures more families with working parents are being pushed into poverty because of the rising cost of living.
It means that despite being in poverty they do not qualify for the free meals leaving thousands of children in the county without a daily hot meal.
The figures have been published by The Children's Society, through its Fair and Square campaign, and is now calling on the Government to make free school meals available to all children in poverty.
Across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight the charity has calculated that 21,500 youngsters who are in poverty are missing out.
The Children's Society chief executive Matthew Reed said: “We know from the families we work with up and down the country that parents are struggling to make ends meet. Right now, the Government is reconsidering which children will be entitled to get free school meals. We urge the government to take this opportunity to make sure all children in poverty can get a free school meal.”
The call is being backed by hardship and children's charities across the south, who say they are seeing a huge increase in the number of people access their services.
The BASICS food bank which gives out emergency parcels to the public says they are being inundated with requests.
Last year saw 5,000 people receive food parcels and in the last three months volunteers have seen a 31 per cent increase in service users compared with the same period last year.
Co-ordinator Cheryl Ricketts said: “On Monday 83 people were served which would have been the number in a week just a few years ago.
“We are definitely seeing more people coming to us, particularly those who are in fuel poverty and having to make choices between heating or eating.”
Mike Smith, general manager at the SCRATCH hardship charity based in Southampton said they too were also seeing a rise in demand.
“By the end of this financial year I would say we are busier by up to 15 per cent. Pay rises simply aren't keeping up with the cost of living and families are feeling that.”
The Honeypot charity in the New Forest supports vulnerable children and provides respite care for young carers. Children's services manager Clare Holloway said they were seeing more referrals from schools.
“I do think there are many more families in need and I can see the problem getting worse before it gets better. I think that there is a huge need for children who are in poverty but do not qualify and so are potentially not getting a hot meal at all.”
Number of children in poverty missing out on free school meals by constituency:
Southampton Test 3,100
Winchester 600Gosport 1,900
Meon Valley 1,300
Isle of Wight 3,100
Hampshire North West 1,300
Hampshire North East 900
Hampshire East 1,300