MP campaigns to end free school lunch loophole

The MP for Harlow in Essex has called for the Government to end the inequality over the availability of free school meals to disadvantaged students.

Conservative Robert Halfon says the loophole is damaging the life chances of some young people while the Government admits it should be dealt with.

At the moment 16 to 18-year-olds who go to a college do not get the meals, whereas those who go to a sixth form school do.

Because of what the government has described as a "funding anomaly", Harlow College estimates around 350 of its students go hungry.

"It's a strange idea and a sad fact that you have students in this country coming into a place of education and they're worried about food, and of course when you're hungry it's pretty hard to focus yourself as well and we want our students to come here and feel well, healthy and to study."

– Amanda Hughes, Deputy Principal, Harlow College

There are 103,000 college students across the UK eligible for free school meals but under the current rules can't apply. Of these, nearly 7,500 are from the East of England.

Student Josh McManus-Woods is eligible for free school meals, but because he attends Harlow college rather than a school sixth form he can't have the funding.

"It just makes the day to day life of coming to college or going into further education more difficult when it's not necessary."

– Josh-McManus Woods, Student

According to the Association of Colleges, colleges educate almost double the number of 16 to 18-year-olds than school sixth forms. Three times the number of college students are eligible for free meals, compared to schools.

Harlow's MP Robert Halfon is calling on the government to address the imbalance.

"There is a loophole in the system that has been damaging the life-chances of young people at Harlow College and elsewhere for too long. Harlow College has achieved the best success rates in the country because it does everything it can to help those from poorer incomes, with apprenticeship programmes for young people leaving care or for single parents returning to work and with its own version of free school meals, even though it has no such obligation and little funds.”

– Robert Halfon MP, Con, Harlow

The Association of Colleges estimates it would cost 38 million pounds a year to extend free meals to colleges.

Answering a question in parliament on the discrepancy in funding, Education Secretary Michael Gove said:

"It is an anomaly with which we wish to deal, and we are talking to the Association of Colleges about it. Resources are tight, but they are absolutely right to carry on campaigning."

– Michael Gove MP, Education secretary