Rotherham sees 68 per cent cent increase in youngsters eligible for free school meals – the highest in South Yorkshire

Rotherham has seen the sharpest increase in the number of youngsters eligible for free school meals in South Yorkshire.

Friday, 24th June 2022, 11:10 am

According to figures obtained under the freedom of information act, 6,896 youngsters were eligible for free school meals in Rotherham in 2018.

By 2022, that figure had risen to 11,621 – an increase of 68 per cent.

All four boroughs of South Yorkshire have seen the number rise in the last four years.

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Rotherham has seen the sharpest increase of youngsters eligible for free school meals in South Yorkshire.

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During the same period, Sheffield saw a 44 per cent increase and Barnsley saw a 57 per cent hike.

Doncaster’s figure increased from 8,252 in 2018 to 12,037 in 2022 – a rise of 55 per cent.

In total, the number of pupils in South Yorkshire in receipt for free school meals has risen from 37,998 to 57,457 – a rise of 51 per cent.

Rotherham Council has been funding £15 supermarket vouchers in the school holidays for pupils on free school meals since October 2020.

A further £1.4m to extend the scheme has been funded by the Household Support Fund (HSF), which was extended by the Government through 2022/23 to help councils support those most in need.

Councillor Victoria Cusworth, cabinet member for children and young people at Rotherham Council said: “Increasing food, fuel and energy prices are hitting many local families hard and we hope continuing this scheme will provide some respite and reassurance to people facing the choice between eating and heating.

“It’s in everyone’s interest that all Rotherham’s children are well-fed, able to learn and engage and school and live their lives to the full.

“Because free school meals are means-tested, we know this support is going to the families who need it the most – and in many cases those who were impacted the most by the cruel cut to Universal Credit imposed last year.”

Ed Miliband, Labour MP for Doncaster North said that the figures should “shame this government”.

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“These figures show the scale of the cost of living crisis facing families in Doncaster under the Conservatives. It should shame this government and their dismal record.

“It is right that free school meals are in place but the rocketing numbers eligible in our city show that too many people cannot get by.

Rt Hon Dame Rosie Winterton DBE, Labour MP for Doncaster Central added that she was “concerned” the “stark rise” in the number of eligible youngsters.

“Free School Meals are a good, reliable way to ensure that every child in school has access to consistent, healthy meals that will allow them to keep focus on their studies.

“That being said, I am concerned to see the stark rise in eligibility in Doncaster which speaks to a wider issue surrounding investment, opportunities and job availability.”

John Healey, MP for Wentworth and Dearne added: “These figures show the need for free school meals is soaring.

“The cost of living crisis is really hurting families and decisions made in Downing Street – like cuts to Universal Credit, lack of help with bigger energy bills and punishing tax rises – are pushing more working people to the brink.

“Thank goodness schools are stepping in to make sure kids are fed.”

The trend has been branded “deeply concerning” by one of Barnsley’s MPs, as the cost-of-living crisis pushes residents into hardship.

Dan Jarvis, MP for Barnsley Central said: “These trends are deeply concerning to see and chime with the countless conversations I have had with families across Barnsley who are struggling to make ends meet.

“This is the devastating reality of the Conservative’s cost-of-living crisis and a damning indictment of the Government’s complete inability to help people live with decency and dignity.

“A tax hike on working people, a callous Universal Credit cut and now spiralling energy and food bills.

“It’s shameful that Barnsley families and children are paying the price for the Conservative’s failures, the Government must urgently step up support to get people through this very tough period.”

Councillor Trevor Cave, cabinet spokesperson for children’s services at Barnsley Council said 30 per cent of eligible families don’t take up their free school meals, and encouraged them to apply.

“Having regular, nutritious food has a huge impact on a child’s health, helping them to have healthy, happy lives,” said Coun Cave.

“We’ve seen an increase in children receiving free school meals in recent years, but we know there are still families out there not using this support.

“Around 30 per cent of eligible families don’t take up their free school meals.

“To find out more and apply, search ‘free school meals’ on Barnsley Council’s website or call 01226 787787 and press option 3, we’ll be happy to help.”