'School lunch was the only meal I could rely on': Lancashire man calls for free dinners for all primary pupils
Jake Hartley, now 22, will join Barnardo’s chief executive Lynn Perry in delivering a 32,000-signature petition making that demand to Downing Street on Thursday.
Currently, free meals are available to all children in reception and years 1 and 2 in England, but older primary school pupils are eligible to receive them only if their household’s income is less than £7,400 per year.
Barnardo’s says that the present arrangement means there are around 800,000 children who do not qualify for a free lunch in spite of the fact they are officially living in poverty.
Jake - who has nine siblings - recalls how the hot meal from his school’s canteen was often the only source of daily sustenance for him during his childhood.
“I struggled a lot when I was younger, as often there wasn’t food in the house. My lunch at school was the meal that I relied on every day to make sure I could eat.
“I know how much myself and others relied on having this meal - and knew if we didn’t have it, then we wouldn’t have been able to eat anything else.
“I have given my younger siblings money, even when I had little myself, to make sure they can eat at school and college, as they couldn’t afford it. I still do this now - I know the struggle myself and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” added Leyland-born Jake, who is just embarking on a career as a support worker.
Lynn Perry said it was “unacceptable that children are going hungry in a country which has the sixth largest economy in the world”.
“The cost-of-living crisis is driving more and more families into poverty - and we know from our frontline work that this will affect children now and long into the future.
“Not having enough to eat can affect children’s growth, make it difficult to focus at school and harm their future life opportunities.
“Whether children have enough to eat shouldn’t be determined by their postcode. That is why we are calling on the government to introduce free school meals for all primary school children in England, to support struggling families across the UK, and to do more to tackle hunger during the school holidays.”