Shocking free school meal figures highlight food poverty problem in East Lancashire (From Blackburn Citizen)
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Shocking free school meal figures highlight food poverty problem in East Lancashire
MORE than a third of pupils in 47 schools received free school meals during the last academic year, highlighting the shocking levels of food poverty across East Lancashire.
The exclusive figures, gained from a Freedom of Information Act request to Lancashire County Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council, showed the region to be well above the national average of 17 per cent.
The East Lancashire figures were described as ‘shocking’ by the Dean of Blackburn.
It comes as Blackburn’s food bank bosses reported a 58 per cent rise in the number of people in need of emergency food during the summer holidays, bridging the school meals gap in some cases.
The shocking levels of food poverty in East Lancashire prompted the Lancashire Telegraph to launch a campaign earlier this year, calling on readers to donate to local foodbanks.
The average number of children claiming free school meals, borough by borough, was 27 per cent in Burnley, 24 per cent in Blackburn, 22 per cent for Hyndburn, while Rossendale was 19 per cent, Pendle 18 per cent and Ribble Valley was six per cent.
The Very Rev Christopher Armstrong, Dean of Blackburn Cathedral said: “I am shocked by these figures, and I do hope that the message about poverty in the region gets through to people, but what are people going to do about it?
“Domestically, it’s a battle for people to feed their children. It must be for many people, but as a society we have a problem too.”
And former Blackburn with Darwen Council leader Malcolm Doherty said: “I’m not surprised at all by these figures.
“I think the government should take notice. A lot of those children on free school meals come from families where parents are working and they need to take note of that.
“East Lancashire is a low income area, and we are fighting a battle - families, schools and food banks and other organisations - to make sure that our youngsters are properly looked after.”
In Blackburn, 17 schools had more than a third of children claiming free dinners last year, including 12 with more than 40 per cent on free meals, with 62 per cent at Shadsworth Junior School accessing free lunches.
Seven schools in Burnley had more than 40 per cent of children in receipt of free school meals last year, and a further seven had at least a third.
At Burnley’s Springfield Primary School almost two thirds of children were claiming, while at The Rose School the figure was 68.75 per cent.
In neighbouring Pendle, four schools had more than a third of children on free meals with 38.56 per cent at Colne Park Primary and 38.61 per cent at Colne Primet Primary.
It was a similar story in Rossendale, where five schools had at least a third of children on free school dinners, with 61.79 per cent claiming at Rawtenstall’s Cribden House special school.
Seven schools in Hyndburn also had a third or more pupils on free meals, and at St Paul’s CofE Primary in Oswaldtwistle more than half, 53.28 per cent, were accessing free dinners.
In Ribble Valley some schools had large proportions of children on free school meals, including St James’ CofE in Clitheroe where almost 20 per cent were in receipt.
Paul Campbell, chairman of governors at Springfield school in Burnley said: “I’m not overly surprised by the figures.
“I do have concerns about children going hungry over the summer. If it was even an option, we’d like the school kitchen to open over the summer but it’s just not something that we have the funding for at the moment.”
Ros Duerden, who manages Blackburn food bank said: “I know of teachers over the last 10 years who have helped children out of their own pockets.
“I think the problem is that people are walking a tight rope, and this summer has been particularly bad because we had a bad winter leaving people in debt because of fuel bills.
“There’s nothing left in the pot, it’s all spoken for.
“What I can say with absolute certainty is that there are children in Lancashire who are not getting proper nutrition, and as a society we have a responsibility to do something about that.”
Tim Nichols, from national campaign group Child Poverty Action Group said: “Any community with rates of free school meal entitlement over 50 per cent will have not just a very high child poverty rate, but also many families not just a little below the poverty line, but a long way below it.”
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