Contact WEBINAR: Is your disabled child missing out on their free school meals because of their disability or medical condition?

By Imogen Steele, Policy and Public Affairs Officer, Contact

Our post today comes from Imogen Steele of the charity Contact about their upcoming webinar on 19 September about Free School Meals for disabled children. This webinar is produced by Contact, not Special Needs Jungle, but we want as many people to attend as possible so we’re delighted to support them in getting the word out.

Please note the link to the recording of the webinar and free legal resources can now be found at the end of this post

Imogen Steele

Hi, my name is Imogen and I left university with a determination to try to change the education system so that all disabled children are given equality of opportunity. My personal experience as someone with cerebral palsy made me certain that change is needed. I am now the Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the UK charity Contact, which supports families with disabled children, and I am leading on Contact’s inclusive Free school meal campaign.

Lately there has been a lot of media and policy focus on the expansion of Free School Meals (FSM) such as in London. Sadly there has been very little focus on the inaccessibility of current scheme is to many eligible disabled children. 

Contact’s research based on the responses of 1800 families found that a third of eligible disabled children are unable to access a free lunch at school in the standard way because:

  • 60% can’t eat school meals due to their health condition, dietary requirements or sensory processing difficulties.
  • 22% are off school due to a long-term medical condition or illness.
  • 18% have an education package provided by the council or are waiting for a suitable school place.

As a result, families are missing out on £570 of financial help each year and many are having to use foodbanks to compensate.

Supermarket vouchers as an alternative?

During the pandemic, FSM were provided through supermarket food vouchers. For many parents with disabled children, this was the first time their child benefited from the FSM scheme. However, as soon as the pandemic ended, parents with disabled children were once again left without any FSM provision throughout term time.

That’s when Natalie Hay, a parent carer, founded a campaign calling for food vouchers for eligible disabled children unable to access their FSM in the standard way. Contact is supporting agreed to support this campaign.

Natalie Hay, parent carer

What is the campaign trying to achieve?

To make the FSM scheme fully inclusive we want:

  • An automatic right to supermarket vouchers for eligible disabled children unable to access a free meal in school in the standard way.
  • Free School Meals Guidance to make clear that schools and councils must provide free school meals, in some form, to disabled children who can’t access them in the regular way.
  • A change in law so that children with EOTAS who would otherwise be eligible for FSM can access them.

Natalie Hay said: “I hope that government policy will be adapted and shine as a beacon of inclusivity”.

Shouldn’t schools be making reasonable adjustments?

Yes, and the Minister for Schools has confirmed this in a letter to Contact.

For children on the school roll, the Education Act 1996 (Section 512) says free school meals should be made available to eligible pupils either on the school premises or at any other place where education is being provided. This provision could, for example, take the form of a voucher.

In addition, educational settings have a duty under Section 20 of the Equality Act 2010 (pdf link) to make reasonable adjustments to the way in which free school lunches are delivered, where the standard way puts a disabled pupil at a substantial disadvantage compared to other pupils.

However, most schools are unaware of their legal responsibilities and  the Department for Education’s Free School Meals guidance doesn’t mention the provision of supermarket vouchers as a reasonable adjustment for disabled pupils.

Too many disabled children are missing out on their free school meals.
Join Contact's webinar with legal experts on 19
September to find out how the law can help you change this.

What to do if your child cannot access a free lunch at school or college

Many parents have had success in using Contact’s template letter.  Ellie, a parent carer, used the template letter and her child’s school not only agreed to provide supermarket vouchers but also backdated the award, giving her over £1000 in vouchers. She said: ‘Given prices now, it’s a huge weight off my shoulders, this will really help us with our weekly food bills and will mean I no longer need to use the foodbank’.

Join Contact’s webinar to find out more

As part of the campaign, Contact has hosted a free online Zoom meeting with human rights lawyer Alex Rook and Barrister Steve Broach. It covered:

  • The law around Free School Meals (FSM) and the duties on public bodies to make reasonable adjustments. 
  • What to do if your child cannot access a free lunch at school or college because of their disability or sensory needs
  • An introduction to the new free legal resources you can use to ask for reasonable adjustments to be made in the provision of school food. 
  • There will also be an opportunity to ask questions.

A recording of the webinar can be found at the end of the post. 

To get involved in the campaign you can:

Watch the webinar recording

You can now watch the recording of Contact’s free school meals webinar where human rights lawyer Alex Rook and Barrister Steve Broach  explain the law around school meals as well as  how to use the new free legal resources available on Contacts website to ask for a food voucher if your child is missing out on a free meal.

Also read:

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