12 June 2012
The Rt Hon David Blunkett MP has secured a Commons Debate to highlight the difficulties faced by the 100,000 college students missing out on a free lunch – unlike their counterparts in school.
Students in English colleges aged 16 to 18 years old from disadvantaged backgrounds struggle to afford lunch due to an ‘unfair’ funding rule.
The Association of Colleges, its member colleges, students and MPs from across the country are calling on the Government to extend free meals to all 16 to 18-year-olds from a disadvantaged background.
Currently 16 to 18-year-old from a disadvantaged background studying in a maintained school sixth form, free school, University Technical College or an academy, is provided with a free school meal; if the same student chooses to study at a college they lose that entitlement.
The former Education Secretary and South Yorkshire MP (Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough) will speak in support of the AoC national No Free Lunch? campaign, which aims to put an end to this unfair and discriminatory practice.
The debate will take place on Wednesday 13 June 2012 between 9:30am – 11:00am and will be attended by a Government Minister and Shadow Minister.
David Blunkett said: “This flagrant disparity means that 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 hardworking 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.
“This is a massive hidden attack on young people who have already suffered the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance and, if successful in applying to university, the trebling of fees. I hope the debate will draw much needed attention to this issue and result in a commitment from the Government to address this unfair anomaly.”
AoC estimates that removing this inequality and extending the provision of free lunches to eligible college students will cost the Government £38 million.
Martin Doel, AoC Chief Executive, said: “Colleges educate almost twice as many students in this age group than schools.
“We’re calling on supporters to sign the petition on the Number 10 website - http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31069 - calling for an end to this inequality.
“Our campaign comes at a time when family budgets are under increasing pressure. The Education Maintenance Allowance has been withdrawn and food costs continue to rise along with transport costs.
“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. Therefore, I am pleased to be working in partnership with David Blunkett, fellow MPs, college principals and students across England to help to fight this inequality.”
The campaign has the support of the University and College Union and the National Union of Students.
Toni Pearce, NUS Vice President (Further Education), said: “There can be no justification for the basic inequity which says that you can’t get free schools meals if you study at a college from the age of 16 to 18, but can if you study at a school sixth form. Eligibility for free meals should clearly be based on need – not on where you choose to study. We strongly support the AoC's campaign, and call on the Government to listen and act to redress this long-standing and quite flagrant disparity in support.”