Headlines: August 4th, 2009

A leading councillor in Birmingham is calling on the Government to give local authorities more funding to meet the increase in children qualifying for free school meals. Councillor Les Lawrence, the city’s Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families, said the rise was a direct result of the recession and rising unemployment.

Birmingham has been particularly badly affected by the economic downturn with the closure of a number of major employers and widespread redundancies across its automotive, manufacturing, property, construction, retail and business services sectors. The most recent unemployment figures show the West Midlands region has the worst jobless rate in the country at 10.3 per cent.

Recent research by Local Government Association shows 15 per cent of English councils have seen an increase in requests for free school meals. Birmingham already has a higher than average number of school pupils on free meals with 33 per cent of children entitled to the service compared with a national average of 14 per cent.

Councillor Lawrence said it was important that children ate healthily and nutritiously and added; “Those whose families can not afford to pay for school meals should not be excluded which is why there is free provision for these families. But in the current tough economic climate there is more pressure on the school dinner service but the amount of money we receive from the Government has remained static.”

At the moment, he said, the City Council was having to use budgets already under strain to meet the deficit. “If Ministers are serious about the health and well-being of some of our most vulnerable young citizens I urge them to provide additional funds for free school meals as a matter of urgency,” he said.