SHEFFIELD MP David Blunkett has secured a debate in the House of Commons today over a funding anomaly which has left tens of thousands of poor teenagers missing out on free lunches.
The former Education Secretary, Labour MP for Brightside and Hillsborough, wants an end to the disparity which means youngsters aged 16 to 18 who would be offered free school meals if they were studying at a school sixth form or academy miss out if they go to college.
College leaders have launched a campaign to end the practice, which they have described as ‘unfair and discriminatory’ and are calling for all disadvantaged teenagers to be offered free meals, regardless of where they study.
Ahead of today’s debate, Mr Blunkett said: “This flagrant disparity means students in my constituency at Sheffield College and Longley Park Sixth Form College, and across the country, are missing meals because of the educational path they have taken.
“There are three times as many students eligible for free lunches who are studying in college rather than school sixth forms. This means the majority of eligible teenagers are missing out.
“For these hard-working students to be denied access to free meals because they have chosen further education that will benefit both them and the country is inherently unfair. It is not only a bar to social mobility but also an inequality and unfairness that could mean teenagers going hungry.”
The Association of Colleges (AoC), which is leading the ‘No Free Lunch?’ campaign, said more than 100,000 students are missing out each year.
It added that there are three times as many college students eligible for the dinners than are eligible at state school sixth forms.
Martin Doel, AoC chief executive, said: “For a modest amount, in the context of the department’s overall budget, students from some of the most vulnerable areas of society could depend on at least one decent meal a day.”
The Department for Education has said that it is looking into the situation.