Thousands of North West children can’t get free school meals due to ‘restrictive’ criteria

It's been discovered in a shocking new study.

Emily Sergeant Emily Sergeant - 9th February 2024

Thousands of children in the North West can’t access free school meals due to not meeting the criteria to be eligible.

It’s all been revealed as part of a shocking new study.

The new analysis, which has been carried out by Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Greater Manchester Poverty Action (GMPA), has discovered that every North West local authority has at least 1,500 school-aged children in poverty who are not eligible for free school meals because the qualifying criteria for them is “so restrictive”.

Here in Greater Manchester alone, every one of our region’s 10 boroughs has more than 3,000 children unable to access the crucial service.

Manchester is the local Council with the highest number, at 10,500 eligible children.

Thousands of North West children can’t get free school meals due to ‘restrictive’ criteria /

The next highest borough is Bolton at 5,500, with Oldham following close behind at 5,000, and Salford, Rochdale, and Wigan following that at 4,000, while at the other end of the spectrum, Stockport and Bury are the boroughs with the lowest number at 3,000.

These disheartening statistics – which have been published in a full report this week – is exactly why researchers are urging local leaders to do all they can to ensure more little Mancs can get free lunches during school hours.


While the report does highlight examples of local action being taken in the North West to increase access for families, it then crucially goes on to encouraging local leaders join national calls for expansion of free school meal entitlement.

However, researchers have conceded that it’s not just down to local Councils to make changes.

“The responsibility ultimately lies with the UK Government to expand provision of free school meals across the country to tackle classroom hunger,” CPAG and GMPA states in the report.


Reflecting on the findings of the new analysis, and calling on the Government to do more, Graham Whitham, who is the CEO at GMPA, commented: “Child poverty rates have been rising in the North West for a number of years, and families across the region have been hit hard by soaring living costs.

“At a time when every penny counts, it cannot be right that 100,000 North West kids in poverty can’t claim free school meals.

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“Low-income families are under immense financial pressure at the moment, and introducing universal free school meals would mean they have that bit extra to spend on other bills and household essentials.

“It would also improve their children’s nutrition, ultimately helping them to learn, engage and thrive.”

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