NELMA campaigner Benjamin Morgan said they hope to encourage people to contact the Department of Education about the impact these rules are having on vulnerable families. “In some cases we’re talking about undocumented families. In other cases, they do have leave to remain but have a visa saying that they can’t access public funds.
“One of the things we are trying to get is a better idea of the number of people that are affected. But one thing is clear: that children in inner-city urban areas, particularly in the West Indian and Afro-Caribbean communities locally, are certainly affected.”
The campaigners, who are working closely with Hackney Migrant Centre, pointed out that schools have been badly hit by austerity measures and limited funding. “That’s why the campaign is also targeting central government and the mayor,” Morgan added. He said children had been observed sharing lunches when some were denied a free meal.
Schoolboy Joel was among those denied free lunches, a situation rectified only once Akwaaba, a local social centre for refugees and asylum seekers, stepped in. He said children at his school would tease and bully him about him not having a meal.
The boy added: “My mum tried to give me packed lunch but she didn’t have enough money to buy food for it”. He said he felt anxious about his mother’s rising debt each time he accepted a meal from his school.
A survey conducted by the Child Poverty Action Group and National Education Union found that 60 per cent of school staff say they have seen a rise in child poverty since 2015.
Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, described the situation as “wicked” and said she wanted to help develop “a system that reflects the best of the British people”.
Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville said he wants to work with NELMA to make change locally as well as nationally, adding that “Hackney was built by migrants”. He said he was “disgusted” when he received word from the group about the issue.
NELMA is hosting an event to promote the cause in Stoke Newington on Sunday 29 September featuring music, postcard-making – and a free hot lunch for all attendees