SHOCKING figures have revealed more than 10,000 children in Southampton were eligible for free school meals during the pandemic.

Around three in 10 pupils in Southampton are receiving free school meals with thousands more youngsters joining the list as Covid took hold, figures show.

The figures are at the highest level since comparable records began in 2015-16.

But now, in a bid to help vulnerable households and fund free school meals throughout the summer holidays – one of the worst times for families in need – Southampton City Council has pledged nearly £850,000 towards supporting families in the city.

A total of £847,874 will be used to fund free school meals throughout the summer holiday and help city residents pay for food, bills and other essential items.

The money has been granted to Southampton City Council as part of the government Covid Local Support Grant.

Council leader Councillor Daniel Fitzhenry said most of the grant will be used to fund free school meals throughout the summer.

Residents in need can contact Citizens Advice as well as local charities and community groups that work in partnership with the council, he added.

Overall a total of £2,273,892 has been granted to the city council as part of the government scheme.

Southampton Itchen MP Royston Smith, said: “The pandemic has put immense pressure on local resources and public finances, and I am delighted that Southampton has been awarded an additional £847,874 to help families and the most vulnerable in the city.

“The grant will ensure that thousands of families across Southampton get help with food and essential utility bills as we move back towards normality. The additional funding extends a lifeline to those most in need in the coming months as we continue to help families back on their feet.”

When asked specifically about the numbers of children on free school meals, he said: "The increase in pupils being eligible for free school meals is concerning. The pressures of the pandemic has highlighted many more families who are struggling financially.

"It is essential that all children have healthy and nutritious meals.

"It is our responsibility to ensure that no child goes hungry which is why government has awarded Southampton additional funds from the Covid Local Support Grant to support families who’d have struggled throughout the pandemic."

Department for Education figures show 10,018 children in Southampton were eligible for free school meals in January – 30 per cent of all state school pupils in the area.

This was up from 25 per cent the year before.

The figures have been described as "shocking but unsurprising".

In Southampton, 2,435 children became eligible between March 23 2020 – when the first national lockdown began – and January, though the DfE said some may have been previously eligible at other times.

Of the children, 1,908 went to primary schools, 478 to secondary schools, 43 to special schools and six in pupil referral units.

MP for Southampton Test Alan Whitehead said: "The rise in pupils eligible for free school meals is shocking but unsurprising.

"The pandemic will have made things worse for families already struggling with many families already having seen a cut in their income when the benefits system moved over to Universal Credit under the Conservatives.

"I worry that these figures will continue to rise as the government considers removing the £20 uplift to Universal Credit."