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The issue of child hunger varies across the country, with some regions being worse affected than others

A growing number of schools across England are paying out of their own pockets to feed pupils.

The worrying finding comes from a new report by charity School Food Matters.

The charity surveyed 10,000 children across the country, revealing four in 10 schools are “forced to dip into their school budgets” to feed those who are not eligible for free meals.

Four in 10 teachers surveyed said pupils were too hungry to learn, with the figure doubling in the most deprived areas of the country.

The worst affected areas according to the poll are the north and southwest of England.

The report also found a quarter of school leaders have written off school meal debt this year, with almost a third going as far as opening a food bank to support struggling families.

“The news that cash-strapped schools across England are dipping into their budgets to feed hungry children is shocking,” said School Food Matters founder and chief executive Stephanie Slater.

“Schools cannot continue to plug gaps in provision with these drastic measures. The government must expand free school meals so that every child has the good nutrition they need to thrive.”

Headteacher Terri Cheung from Phoenix Primary School in Liverpool added: “Our school is in an area of high deprivation, and we have lots of families who struggle financially.

“Some children come in hungry every single day. We also have so many families who aren’t eligible for free school meals, [but] it doesn’t mean our children go hungry. We make sure they eat, but it’s coming out of the school budget and it’s not going to be sustainable. We get less and less money every year and the bills have gone up.”

Earlier in the year, the number of children identified as living in poverty reached almost a million, having doubled from 450,000 in 2023.

In order to qualify for free school meals, a child’s family must be in receipt of universal credit and have a total income of up to £7,400 in a year.

Last week, MPs debated the expansion of free school meals, with Labour MP Lyn Brown calling for the £7,400 threshold to be scrapped.

The charity is increasing calls to the government to action change regarding school meals, including following the mayor of London’s policy to provide free meals to all primary school pupils for the next four years.

“Primary school children in London benefiting under the mayor’s policy are already experiencing the positive impacts free school meals can bring,” said Nikita Sinclair, director of children’s health and food at Impact on Urban Health.

“Investing in children’s health and expanding free school meals nationally would provide significant long-term benefits to the economy and give all children the chance to learn and thrive, no matter where they live.”