More than one in four children in the north-east of England are eligible for free school meals, after new figures published by the government showed that the numbers have been rising since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the 10 months between January and October last year, the proportion of children on free school meals in England shot up from 17% to nearly 20%, meaning that 1.63 million state school pupils are now in receipt of free lunches. In January 2020 the total was 1.44 million.
The highest rates were in the north-east, where more than 26% were eligible, and 23% in the West Midlands. In contrast, only 15% of pupils in the south-east of England were eligible.
Children in state-funded schools are entitled to free school meals if the parent or carer they live with is on benefits, including income support, or receiving universal credit with household income of less than £7,400 a year.
More than 300,000 pupils now able to have free school meals became eligible after 23 March 2020, when the first national lockdown was announced. The total number is expected to increase when the results for the January 2021 school census are published.