Free school meals should be permanently extended to pupils from low-income migrant families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), according to charities.
A letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been signed by 60 organisations including the Children’s Society, Unison and Action for Children urging ministers to make the change.
NRPF is a condition applied to those staying in the UK on a temporary immigration status and who have not yet qualified for permanent residency in the UK.
It means that as a matter of course many of them will not have access to public funds.
The Children’s Society said research provided to them by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford indicates that at the end of 2019, an estimated 175,643 non-EEA citizens under the age of 18 lived in families affected by the NRPF condition.
In April this year, the Government temporarily extended free school meals to children in some families affected by the NRPF condition while the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak impacts schools.
However, concerns have now been raised over how long the support will continue for.
Sam Royston, director of policy and research for the Children’s Society, said free school meals must be extended to help children return to school with the hope of a bright future.
“It is unacceptable that thousands of children, whose lives have already been turned upside down by the pandemic, could lose out on free school meals,” said Mr Royston.
“Adjusting to being back at school will already be a tremendous challenge for most, but whether a child is able to eat should not depend on their parents’ immigration status.
“The latest figures show that the number of children affected by the NRPF condition is increasing, meaning many more are now at risk.
“The extension of free school meals for children affected by NRPF has been a lifeline, but we know that the impact of the pandemic will be felt for years to come.
“The Government must permanently extend free school meals to all low-income migrant families who have no recourse to public funds, to help ensure that every child can return to school with the hope of a bright future.”
In June this year, Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford was successful in campaigning for free school meal vouchers to be provided to pupils over the summer period.
He had spoken about his own experience of using a food voucher scheme as a child and was praised after pressing the Government into making a U-turn on the issue.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We have temporarily extended free school meal eligibility to include some children of groups who have no recourse to public funds in light of the current unique circumstances many families face at this time.
“This will continue for the duration of the summer holidays and while the outbreak impacts schools.”