In most schools, catering contractors are paid £1.90 per day to provide free school meals for qualifying children. If a child on free school meals doesn't eat one day - if they are off sick, for example, or eat less than £1.90 worth of food - the contractor still gets paid £1.90. The money saved goes to the contractor, not the child on free school meals.
Contractors say that this covers their 'wastage', as they have had to incur the cost of preparing a meal. But they don't charge children who pay for meals for any meals that they miss.
Children who pay for meals are able to 'save up' any money they don't spend one day, to spend another day, but this is not possible for those on free school meals. So a child on free school meals can't, for example, use the money from a meal they missed on Monday to pay for breakfast before an exam on Friday.
So the contractors are using savings made in providing free school meals to increase their income. This is either used to to subsidise the cost of school meals for those who pay, or is bolstering the profits of the catering contractors. Both of these seem, to put it mildly, unfair.
Are there examples of other ways to administer free school meals that treat children who receive them more fairly?
Thanks to Sara for bringing this to our attention. Poverty Proofing the School Day is a service provided by Children North East to work with children in schools to identify ways in which poverty impacts on their learning, and make simple changes to address these.
Work has to be a better route out of poverty. Most poor children have a working parent.