Charity provides free breakfasts for 561 vulnerable families over half term

Rice, oats, milk, fruit and bread on an outdoor table

Food from one of the breakfast boxes delivered to Cumberland Community School. - Credit: School Food Matters

More than 560 families hit hard by the pandemic will have healthy breakfasts for the half-term school break.

The number of children eligible for free school meals (FSM) in Newham rose 37per cent in the last year - the highest rise in England, according to government figures.

The charity School Food Matters has provided hundreds of “breakfast boxes” for vulnerable families in the borough, including those with children receiving FSM or identified as having no recourse to public funds (NRPF).

The boxes contain enough food to create five healthy breakfasts to cover the half-term break.

They were delivered yesterday (Thursday, October 21) to five selected schools in Newham which have among the highest rates of pupils eligible for FSM in the country.

These included Cumberland Community School, where 54pc of pupils have been eligible for FSM over the past six years, compared to the national secondary schools average of 24pc, according to government data for 2020/21.

Cumberland Community School headteacher Omar Deria said: “Children not eating or not having enough to eat has a serious impact on their learning and I have seen this first-hand, especially as a result of Covid-19. 

“We must not allow any child to go hungry and we need to do everything in our power to fight hunger.”

About half of Newham's children are living in poverty, while almost a third are facing food security, according to council figures.

The end of the furlough scheme and the removal of the universal credit uplift is expected to push many children further into food poverty.

Newham is one of only four local authorities in England which funds FSM for all primary school students.

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However, School Food Matters says the breakfast boxes programme demonstrated that food insecurity goes far beyond those entitled to FSM.

Research by the charity found one in four families identified by their schools as needing support could not access FSM.

Newham Council's lead for children’s services, Cllr Sarah Ruiz, said: “This is a great initiative and contributes to our work to keep all children in the borough food secure during the half-term break, as families continue to face significant financial issues due to Covid-19."