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Social Justice

Families denied welfare due to immigration rules can now apply for free school meals

The Department for Education announced all families with no recourse to public funds will be able to apply for free school meals on a permanent basis.

Children living in poverty whose families are locked out of the welfare system because of their immigration status will now have permanent access to free school meals, the government has confirmed.

The Department for Education on Thursday announced it would extend access to free school meals to all families affected by the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) policy who are living in poverty, following a two-year review.

It makes permanent changes made during the pandemic, when the government granted free school meals access to thousands of children from families with NRPF.

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Estimates suggest there are 175,000 children from families with NRPF in the UK, though not all will be living in poverty and require free school meals. Children living in poverty with NRPF are not the only
group who had been denied access to free school meals. Child Poverty Action Group has estimated one million children living in poverty miss out because of strict eligibility rules.

Migrant and refugee charity Praxis has led the campaign for access to be made permanent. Following the DfE’s decision, its policy and public affairs manager Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz said: “This ensures that children living in poverty, who were previously denied access to the welfare safety net by their family’s immigration status, get guaranteed access to one hot, freshly cooked and nutritionally balanced meal a day.

“At a time when the cost of living is rising rapidly, this decision could not come at a better time for many of the families we work with.”

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Announcing the new rules, MP Will Quince said: “In 2020, we temporarily extended free school meal eligibility to include some children of groups who have NPRF. I am pleased to confirm that, following a cross-government review, we will permanently extend eligibility for free school meals to children from all families with NRPF, subject to income thresholds.”

He added: “These healthy, nutritious meals ensure that children up and down the country are well-nourished, develop healthy eating habits, and can concentrate, learn and achieve in the classroom.”

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Whitaker-Yilmaz added that it remained unclear whether the new rules will apply to children in families with insecure or irregular status, who are among the most excluded in our society, and called on the DfE to make it clear.

Anna Berry (not her real name) from the No Recourse to Public Funds Action Group, which is made up of people with experience of NRPF, added: “We are tremendously happy to hear today’s good news. This promising development gives us hope. It is so important to safeguard children.

“This is a step further on our quest: we are closer to ensuring that one of the most basic rights of children, to be well nourished, are being met.

“We are not resting on our laurels, there are more battles to fight. We are glad to see the government is listening to us and our voices are being heard. We are looking forward to achieving more of our aims.”

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