Thousands of disadvantaged children in the north east will from this week be entitled to a free school meal for the first time, according to research by The Children’s Society.
An analysis of official statistics shows that 68,502 children across the region, aged from four to seven, will benefit from the Government’s expansion of free school meals to all infants from the start of the school year.
In Northumberland, the estimated number of children in reception, Year 1 and 2 gaining entitlement to free school meals is 6,631, with an estimated 278 of those living in poverty.
Under the new policy, which was first announced by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg last September, a free school meal is being offered to all schoolchildren in reception, Year and Year 2.
But the charity said that while the move is a significant step forward, around half a million children who are living in poverty will continue to miss out on a free school meal.
Many low-income families are unable to get free school meals simply because their parents are working – no matter how little they earn.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “The extension of free school meals to all infants in the north east is a positive step forward in the fight against child poverty, and shows that the government recognises the hardship that thousands of families are facing.
“But for poor youngsters older than seven, nothing has changed.
“That’s why it is vital that ministers build on this to make sure that every child in poverty is guaranteed a free school meal, whatever their age.”