HUNDREDS of hard-up college students skip lunch to save cash in Sheffield as funding inequality means they miss out on a free meal.
The Sheffield College says about 750 students at its four campuses are affected and demand is rising at its food bank where students take donated items home.
MPs including David Blunkett highlighted the problem which means youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds do not get a meal if they study at a further education college.
Their counterparts at sixth form schools still get the subsidy - even though colleges educate almost twice as many young people aged 16 to 18.
Now the college is backing a national bid to extend free meals to all eligible students.
Chief executive Heather MacDonald said: “We know of students missing lunch to save money, others walking four miles to college and back because they can’t afford travel fares and some not able to pay for course equipment.
“The fact students worry about eating and money means they struggle to concentrate and possess the energy to do their best and achieve their potential.
“Our staff go over and above the call of duty giving some students food and in some cases lending them money.”
The college has set up a charitable trust so staff and students can fundraise to help students in financial need and offers support through food vouchers.
But because funding it receives for other services is ring-fenced any leftover cash cannot be used to help students in other ways.
Mrs MacDonald said: “These cases are just the tip of the iceberg and reflect a broader issue about young people in poverty struggling to afford their education when it is absolutely critical, so they can improve their prospects and escape this financial trap.
“This dire situation for some students attending further education colleges is even more critical now given the economic climate.
“Parents are struggling and students who are hard-up cannot get part-time jobs that might have cushioned them.”
n To sign the No Free Lunch? petition from The Association of Colleges visit epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31069.