FREE school meals for all children between reception and Year 6 is being demanded in a letter from Wigan Council to the Government.

Coun Jenny Bullen sent the letter to Rishi Sunak after getting approval from the full council.

At the meeting on April 12 in Wigan Town Hall’s council chamber, Coun Bullen explained how Wigan is ranked as the 67th most deprived local authority out of the 354 in England.

The portfolio holder for Children and Families told her council peers that children going hungry are unable to learn as effectively.

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“The strongest argument is the very basic fact that children cannot learn well without sustenance,” Coun Bullen told the chamber. “We know that many children go to school without breakfast. 

“We also know that many families struggle to provide a decent meal every day because of the rising costs of basic food stuffs and also energy costs, so children are going hungry.

"This seriously affects their ability to concentrate and reach their full potential. There is no doubt that an empty stomach compromises a child’s ability to learn. It is a well proven fact that children need warm, nutritious meals for their health, well-being and development.”

In order to benefit from free school meals currently, your household income must be less than £7,400 a year, the government's website states.

Leigh Journal: Councillor Jenny Bullen, cabinet member for children and familiesCouncillor Jenny Bullen, cabinet member for children and families (Image: Wigan Council)

Coun Bullen claimed that since the free school meals requirement was put in place in 2018, “food and drink inflation has risen by 13.1 per cent in just one year”.

She believes that Wigan could benefit from a strategy like this given that many neighbourhoods in the area fall into the category of most deprived. There has never been a more important time for something like this “as the cost of living crisis worsens and we know this is causing even greater hardship”, Coun Bullen claimed.

“29 of Wigan’s 200 neighbourhoods fall within the 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods in England,” Coun Bullen continued. “In one of our most deprived areas 42 per cent of children are eligible for free school meals.

“This motion demands that Free School Meals should be available for all primary school children from Reception class through to Y6. The current arrangement is that there is universal entitlement just for Key Stage 1, which is Reception, Year 1 and Year 2.”

Coun Bullen had been “hoping to withdraw” this motion ahead of the meeting as Labour MP Zarah Sultana had proposed a Free School Meals Bill in Parliament, which she says has been blocked. The Bill is currently in the progress of its second reading, according to the website.

Coun Bullen has demanded that “the Government must not just stand and watch, a time for change is needed”. That letter has now been sent to 10 Downing Street.