More Hackney pupils needing free school meals

Free meals for all primary school pupils are kept on by Tower Hamlets Council. Picture: Rehan Jamil

Hackney has seen a shocking rise in the number of children in need of free school meals over the course of the pandemic. - Credit: Rehan Jamil

Official figures have revealed a stark rise in the number of children in Hackney needing free school meals.

The borough has seen a 13 per cent rise in the number of pupils eligible for free school meals, from 11,287 in 2019/20 to 12,725 in 2020/21. 

While the trend of a rising need for free school meals can be seen all over the country, Hackney and other inner city London boroughs have some of the largest proportions of pupils eligible.

While neighbouring borough Islington has the second-highest percentage of eligible students (38.3pc) in the country, preceded only by Blackpool (38.6pc), Hackney has the seventh-highest. 

Just over 36 per cent of Hackney pupils are now eligible for free school meals, a figure which was 31.6pc in 2015/16 and was decreasing until 2017/18.

Urswick School has the highest proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals in Hackney (67.2pc) and Mossbourne Riverside Academy saw the greatest increase over the last year, up 56pc.

In the whole of the UK, 20.8pc of children are eligible for free school meals, up from 17.3 per cent last January, before the pandemic hit. 

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So, in the space of a year another 300,00 pupils have become eligible, making the a current total of 1.74 million children from families with incomes low enough to qualify for free lunches in January this year. 

In response, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “There are currently around 1.7 million pupils benefiting from a nutritious free school meal through our eligibility criteria. We are also continuing to support pupils in disadvantaged areas through our Breakfast Clubs programme, which we are extending over the next two years.

“Outside of term-time, our expanded Holiday Activities and Food programme is providing thousands of disadvantaged children healthy food and enriching activities in every local authority in England.”

Hackney Council has not yet responded for comment.