On the map - Free school meals - Poverty measures on a plate

8th October 2010 at 01:00

Now that the coalition Government has scrapped the plans for all children living in poverty to qualify for free school meals (FSMs), the main criterion for deciding who receives support will once again be whether parents are receiving jobseeker's allowance.

Leaving aside the disincentive this means-tested benefit presents to some parents who are considering a return to work (it may be that a low-paid job close to the minimum wage does not cover the loss of FSMs), it also shows up clearly in the local differences on the map.

Former industrial areas where manufacturing industry has disappeared and not been replaced by other jobs feature among the top spots, with more than a third of Manchester pupils and more than 30 per cent of those in Middlesbrough eligible for FSMs.

But even these percentages are dwarfed by Tower Hamlets in east London, where more than half of all pupils are eligible. The City and Canary Wharf offices may be full of wealthy bankers, but the streets inbetween still contain a disproportionate number of families living in poverty, and some other parts of the capital are not very far behind.

By contrast, take the river bus up the Thames to Kingston, and only one in every 12.5 pupils qualifies for FSMs. In Wokingham, an affluent borough between Reading and Maidenhead, the figure is only one in 25 pupils, and even in rural Wiltshire it is barely more than one in 20 pupils.

These figures matter now more than ever because FSMs are one of the possible indicators for the Coalition's pupil premium. If no new money is forthcoming, some of these areas could see their funding stand still in real terms, even if it does not actually fall.

l John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education

PERCENTAGE OF PUPILS ELIGIBLE FOR FREE SCHOOL MEALS IN 2010

Yorkshire amp; Humber - 14.9

East Midlands - 11.4

East - 9.6

London - 23

South East - 8.6

South West - 9.5

West Midlands - 16.6

North West - 17.3

North East - 16.9

IN EACH REGION*

Tower Hamlets - 55.3

Manchester - 35.0

Middlesbrough - 32.1

Birmingham - 31.0

Nottingham - 26.6

Hull - 25.8

Luton - 21.0

Bristol - 20.7

Southampton - 19.8

North Tyneside - 10.8

Warwickshire - 8.1

Cheshire East - 8.0

Kingston-upon-Thames - 7.5

North Yorkshire - 6.8

Central Bedfordshire - 6.5

Rutland - 6.0

Wiltshire - 5.9

Wokingham - 4.0

* Local authorities with highest and lowest figures in each region (2010).

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