Barrow teenager wants to see free school meals given to more children

Asha, a Food Foundation AmbassadorImage source, The Food Foundation
Image caption,

Asha wants to use her experience of food poverty to try to prevent other youngsters experiencing the same issues

A teenager is campaigning for free school meals to be extended to more children, using her experience of going hungry in school to talk to MPs.

Asha, 16, and from Barrow, says growing up she often went hungry in school, despite her mum working full time.

Working as a Food Foundation ambassador she hopes to help other children.

She said: “There was a lot of stigma any time I would try to get food and wouldn’t have enough money, I would get dirty looks or be asked questions.”

She has been picked by the charity to lobby MPs for free school meals to be extended to families in England living in poverty.

Asha said: “I know what it’s like growing up in food poverty, being young and not being able to get the right amount of food, being able to afford it and not being able to have healthy food is a situation I’ve grown up in and I can understand it and sympathise with it.”

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

School meals offer youngsters a healthy mix of vegetables and fruit

She remembers while at junior school, she was told she could not have lunch because there was not enough credit on her account.

“It was very draining for a young child, your brain needs energy to work properly. Food supplies energy and if you’re not getting a good nutritious meal then your brain won’t function and you’re not going to be able to work and concentrate,” she said.

“You’re going to have anger outbursts, you’re going to be stressed and not able to get your work done.”

Asha said she hoped talking to MPs would help them understand the issues. The campaign h
as already attracted support from footballer Marcus Rashford and actor Dame Emma Thompson who want the government to review its school meals policy.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Asha believes hot school dinners not only fill stomachs but also help young people concentrate

Currently in England, children aged four to 16 are eligible for free school meals if they live in a household which gets income-related benefits (such as universal credit) and has an annual income of less than £7,400 after tax, not including welfare payments.

But about 40% of universal credit claimants have jobs, so if they earn more than the threshold, their children will not qualify for free school meals.

The government has said it would keep free school meals eligibility criteria under review.

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