Free school meals scheme in London shows why we must ensure disabled children don’t miss out

4 mins read

Monday 20 February 2023

Tags: cost of living crisis, free school meals, disabled children

News today that free school meals will be given to all London primary schools next year shows the importance of ensuring eligible disabled children don’t miss out.

Una Summerson, Head of Campaigns at Contact, said: “The scheme in London has been launched to reduce cost of living difficulties at the same time as improving educational attainment for all children. It really does highlight the importance of free school meals.

“And yet there are hundreds of disabled children across the UK who are missing out. Some are not in school because they are waiting for a suitable place, others are unable to attend school due to mental health problems. And some are on special diets not catered for at school. We should be doing everything to help them and their families. That’s why we are supporting a parent-led campaign calling for food vouchers to be given to eligible disabled children unable to access free school meals.”

Missing out: Danielle’s story

Danielle has two children who are both eligible for free school meals but are unable to access them.

Thea, aged 7, has ARFID, Autism and ADHD. ARFID stands for Avoidant/restrictive food Intake Disorder – it’s a relatively new term for a condition where people avoid certain foods and eat small quantities. She also has a dairy allergy. Thea has a very limited diet, in fact she has eaten the same food every day for over 4 years. This means that she can’t eat school dinners and has a packed lunch every day.

Mum Danielle and daughter Thea on the beach
Mum Danielle and daughter Thea

Danielle’s son is 10-years-old and is autistic. He is currently under alternative provision and has not accessed education since June last year due to autistic burnout. Due to his absence from school he has been unable to have school dinners and no vouchers have been issued as a replacement.

Can’t access due to their disabilities

Danielle said: “I am a single mum and a parent carer. I am unable to work due to caring for my son, who is now at home 24/7. I have asked the school who in turn asked the local authority to issue me with vouchers to replace the meals that my son and daughter can’t access due to their disabilities. So far they have refused, despite giving out vouchers during lockdown. £30 a week in vouchers would help me greatly and it seems unfair that we are shut out from this help through no fault of our own.”

There are lots of reasons why a disabled child might not be able to take advantage of a free school meal including:

  • Not being in physical attendance at school due to a long-term medical condition.
  • In attendance but cannot eat the meals provided due to dietary requirements or sensory processing difficulties.
  • Home learning while waiting for a school placement.
  • Child’s needs cannot be met in a school setting and so is home learning or have Education Otherwise Than At School (EOTAS).

Una Summerson added: “We want local authorities to fulfil their obligation to offer disabled children who are unable to access a free meal in the regular way at school, an alternative in the form of a supermarket voucher.

“Currently a free school meal is valued at £3 per day. There are 190 days in a school year, so that’s £570 of financial help over the course of a year that some disabled children are missing out on.”

What you can do to help

Join the parent-led Facebook campaign group, or help Contact to bolster the parent campaign by writing to your MP and local authority using the template letters downloadable on our website.