Christian campaigners have welcomed a government decision to permanently allow children from families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) to access free school meals.
The decision, which will extend eligibility for free school meals to children whose parents’ immigration status prevents them from accessing mainstream benefits, is being seen as a victory for Marcus Rashford’s child poverty campaign.
The government temporarily extended free school meals to children in some NRPF families in April 2020 as the coronavirus outbreak impacted schools.
Since then, charities and campaigners, including England footballer Rashford, have been calling for this to be made permanent.
The Children’s Society’s Policy and Impact Manager, Azmina Siddique said:
“We warmly welcome this announcement, which will mean that children from many low-income migrant families with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) will permanently receive Free School Meals.
“We have been campaigning hard for this and understand what a vital lifeline it has been for many families throughout the pandemic.
“We know from our work at The Children’s Society that low-income families with NRPF, who miss out on benefits like Universal Credit, often struggle to make ends meet.
“Many of these parents are single mums, who are in low-paid jobs and on zero-hours contracts. They work hard and pay taxes like everyone else, but can’t afford the essentials without a safety net to fall back on. This can harm their children’s health, well-being and life chances.
“With the cost of living crisis looming and families facing impossible choices between basics like heating and eating, this extension will take some pressure off hard-working families.
“While, this announcement is an important step in the right direction, the eligibility threshold for families outside London has dropped by several thousands of pounds.
“We are therefore worried that some families subject to NRPF who have been receiving Free School Meals could now miss out. We would welcome clarification from the Department for Education about this change to eligibility thresholds and also about whether undocumented families will benefit from these broader changes.”
It comes as the Local Government Association, which represents councils across the UK, has said automatic enrolment for free school meals should be introduced.