South Cambs sees largest free school meal rise in county
Ben Hatton, Local Democracy Reporter
- Credit: ARCHANT
There has been a 'significant' rise in the number of children eligible for free school meals across the county during the pandemic - but nowhere more than in South Cambs.
According to a report by Cambridgeshire County Council, the number of eligible children in the county between the ages of four and 16 has increased by 28.2 per cent since the pandemic began, rising from 12,780 children in March 2020 to 16,498 this May.
But the biggest increase has been in South Cambs, where the number of children eligible has risen by 35.1 per cent since March.
The leader of South Cambs district council, Liberal Democrat Bridget Smith, said: “Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve worked incredibly hard with our local partners to make sure that all of our residents are aware of the support that they are entitled to.
“Clearly financial issues for families, caused by coronavirus, are one of the main reasons for an increase in the number of pupils in South Cambs receiving free school meals and any increase is deeply concerning to us.
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“Having said that, I am pleased that more local families have ensured that they are receiving the urgent help they deserve."
For the other four districts in the county council area – Cambridge city, East Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, and Fenland – the percentage increase has been nearly 10 points lower.
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Despite the increase over the past 14 months, South Cambs remains the area with the lowest proportion of children eligible for free school meals out of the county's five districts, at 10.4 per cent.
Across Cambs 3,628 more children are now eligible for free school meals than in March 2020 - 18.5 per cent of those on the school roll, which is around one in five children.
Deputy leader of Cambs County Council, Labour Cllr Elisa Meschini, said: "We recognise that eligibility has gone up significantly across the county, and this is a result of the significant financial struggle that people have been facing across the board, and especially in the sectors worst hit by the pandemic.
"As the end of furlough looms, we will continue to target our support towards the people who need it the most.”