Data from the Department for Education has revealed that by the end of the 2020/21 school year, 55 per cent of Northumberland’s children ‘in need’ were eligible for free school meals – up from 41 per cent at the same point in 2016/17.
A child in need is defined by the Government as a child who needs support from their local authority to maintain a decent standard of development and education.
This includes children with disabilities and special educational needs, young carers, children who have committed crimes and those with parents in prison.
Free school meals are available to children who have parents receiving benefits or are on incomes of less than £7,400, so an increase can also be an indicator of declining living standards.
The figures cover children in need who are not in receipt of a children protection plan and are not in foster homes or adoption.
Azmina Siddique, policy and impact manager at charity The Children’s Society, said: “While some year-on-year increase in the numbers of people qualifying can be put down to certain protections in the system as Universal Credit is fully rolled out, it is also likely the increase in free school meal uptake is due to growing need.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to ensure every eligible child has access to free school meals, which is why we have expanded access to them more than any other government in recent decades.”