MORE than 17,000 children in poverty are believed to be missing out on free school meals around South Yorkshire - as families are reluctant to apply or do not qualify because parents are working.
The figures have been revealed in a report by Church of England charity The Children’s Society, which has looked at how many households are living in poverty compared with the number actually claiming free meals.
The worst-affected area in South Yorkshire is Sheffield South East constituency, where an estimated 54 per cent of impoverished children - some 2,000 - are missing out.
In contrast, The Children’s Society does not believe a single child in poverty is failing to receive a free school meal in Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency.
Sheffield South East Labour MP Clive Betts said: “Headteachers are now regularly expressing their concerns to me about hungry children arriving at school and then having little nutritious food in their lunchboxes. It is having an impact on their education.
“I am aware there are some families who are entitled to free school meals for their children, but are reluctant to apply.
“I appeal to them to get their applications in now. There should never be any embarrassment about ensuring children get at least one good meal a day.”
The Children’s Society said nationally there are 1.2 million children in poverty missing out on free school meals, including 17,400 in South Yorkshire and 8,600 in Sheffield alone.
Around 300,000 of the children are registered to receive the meals but do not claim them, while 700,000 are ineligible because their parents are working although their salaries are very low.
A spokeswoman for The Children’s Society said: “Free school meals are a crucial entitlement for families living in poverty. These meals help to ensure children from the lowest-income families receive warm, nutritious food.
“More than half of all school-age children living in poverty aren’t getting free school meals. These 1.2 million children may not be eating a single nutritious meal all day.”
* Sheffield South East - 2,000 children - 5.4%
* Sheffield Central - 1,700 - 45%
* Brightside and Hillsborough - 2,900 - 38%
* Sheffield Heeley - 1,200 - 32 per cent
* Sheffield Hallam - 0
* Rotherham - 1,800 - 36 per cent
* Rother Valley - 700 - 27 per cent
* Wentworth and Dearne - 1,000 - 26%
* Don Valley - 900 children - 26 per cent