Stoke & Staffordshire

Nearly 200 families turn up for free meal, Stoke-on-Trent North MP says

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Media captionRuth Smeeth MP tells story of pupil who collapsed from hunger

Nearly 200 families, rather than the expected 40, turned up to a holiday club for a meal, an MP has said.

Ruth Smeeth, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, was speaking in Parliament in a debate over free school dinners.

She said 191 families came to a community centre last summer on a day where there was only enough food for 40.

The Hungry for Change report has found an increase in children who "can't rely on having enough to eat each day".

"The odds are stacked against low income households," it said.

It said the issue of free school dinner money claimed but not taken in primary, secondary and special school is widespread across England, and estimated the amount could be around £88.3 million. MPs have said this should be investigated.

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Image caption The Labour MP said children going hungry is "Victorian" and "devastating"

The MP also spoke about a boy in her constituency who had fainted on a Monday morning after not eating between free school meals over a weekend.

"It was 11 o'clock in the morning," she said. "He hadn't eaten since his free school meal on the Friday."

"We have children who are starving," she said. "We have failed in everything if this is happening in our schools."

The report made five recommendations to tackle child food poverty including a healthy lunch guarantee, a healthy food minimum and a children's food watchdog.

Education minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government was taking steps to help children access nutritious food, noting there is "much more we need to do and can do".

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