ASIRT, the West Midlands-based advocacy organisation working to support asylum-seekers, earlier this month published an in-depth report looking at food poverty among children in Birmingham denied free school meals as a consequence of their denial of recourse to public funds.
ASIRT explained: “The rationale for this report was that ASIRT has become increasingly conscious that children denied recourse to public funds as a consequence of their parents’ immigration status issues, and so supported under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, are amongst the poorest children in Birmingham, and yet they do not qualify for free school meals, since their parents are, by definition, denied access to the ‘passport benefits’, which might trigger such access.”
ASIRT says the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy towards migrants, combined with large cuts to Birmingham City Council’s budget since 2010, means many needs – including access to adequate nutrition at school – appear to be going unmet.
The report found that parents whose children were not in receipt of free school meal provision were struggling financially and found it hard to pay for such meals.
While ASIRT says more work needs to be done to identify the scale of the problem, it believes that at the very least 400 children in the city are consigned to food poverty as a consequence of their own or their parents’ immigration status.
Data obtained by the Birmingham Community Law Centre obtained under a Freedom of Information Request also informed ASIRT’s findings. All 400+ schools in Birmingham were asked to provide information relating to the numbers of pupils known to have no recourse to public funds, and, of those, the numbers to whom a free school meal was routinely made available.
The report states: “Of the 151 primary and secondary schools to submit a response, the data suggested that only 94 children denied recourse to public funds had been identified, spread across just 26 schools, of which children just 34 were offered a free school meal. Only 3 of these schools unequivocally indicated that they had devised free school meal policies.”
ASIRT adds: “This, of course, leaves significant gaps in our knowledge, since we already know of the existence of around 400 children denied recourse to public funds who are supported by Birmingham Children’s Trust under section 17 alone, to say nothing of those children who may have been placed in the region by another local authority or children’s trust, those who may have approached the Trust and been denied an assessment or services, and those who might simply have never approached any authority for support, or declared any irregularities around their immigration status.”
ASIRT says it will share the finding of its report with the Child Poverty Action Group and with Birmingham’s Deputy Director of Public Health, in order to raise awareness of the extent of the problem and to suggest possible solutions.