New figures show one in three children in the North East are eligible for free school meals

The region has the highest rate of children qualifying for free school meals in the country. Credit: ITV News

One in three children in the North East qualify for free school meals, according to new figures published by the Department for Education.

The report published on Thursday 9 June found the region has the highest rate of children qualifying for free school meals (FSM) in the country with around 29% of children eligible.

All state-school pupils up to Year Two qualify for FSM during term time. Those in Year Three and above from households receiving benefits such as universal credit also qualify, if their annual household income (excluding benefits and after tax) is below £7,400.

Compared to other parts of the country, the North East has also seen the steepest increase of children qualifying for FSM in the last seven years.

In 2015, one in five children qualified whereas now it is almost a third.

Experts say despite the high rates of children qualifying, there is still a quarter of children currently living in poverty who are not eligible for free school meals.

Anna Turley, chair of the North East Child Poverty Commission, says, "That picture is only going to get even worse in the coming months, as families grapple with soaring household bills and even more children face going hungry, with all the obvious consequences for their health and ability to learn.

"One in three pupils across our region are now eligible for free school meals' is a stark reflection of the huge economic disparities between the North East and other parts of the country – and emphasises the urgency of making child poverty a central part of any plans to ‘level up’."

The government says it is spending £37 billion to help families with the cost of living.