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£88 million for free school meals gone missing

  • 28/06/2019

This article is over a year old

Where has it gone?

School Canteen

Millions of pounds allocated to feed children from disadvantaged backgrounds have gone unaccounted for.

In one year alone, £88.3 million given to local authorities to provide free school meals (FSM) for children has ‘disappeared’.

The issue appears to stem from the way FSM’s are administered. Many schools use ‘smart cards’ to manage these payments but at the end of the day the cards are wiped of any remaining credit.

This means that if a pupil misses lunch or does not use their full monetary entitlement, it is still removed from their account – rather than rolling over and accumulating.

But what happens to this money?

Shockingly, the credit is retained by the school meal provider, often a private catering company, regardless of whether they have provided the FSM or not.

The irony of private companies pocketing extra money for unprovided FSM’s means that money meant for the most disadvantaged children is actually subsidising the meals of those who are better off.

In total, almost 20% of FSM are not eaten for one reason or another.

Campaigners are urging the government to allow any remaining credit left on these cards to roll over, so the pupils can use it to buy extra food at lunch or breakfast.

Since the campaign was launched by Citizens UK, at least two schools have changed their systems and returned the money to pupils.

Maura Regan, who works at the Carmel Education College Trust, said:

“In truth we were blissfully ignorant of what was an unintended consequence of the system. Because of that, I felt there was a moral imperative to act.

“It appeared that we were supporting pupils on free school meals, but in reality, we were stifling them and creating difficulties. Once you become aware of something like that it has to become a catalyst for change.”

Source: Citizens UK press release: Revealed: Free School Meal students lose out on £65 million a year

Read the Turn2us Free School Meals information

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