POLITICS
15/12/2015 00:05 GMT | Updated 15/12/2015 00:59 GMT

Frank Field's Bill To Direct Cash Automatically To Poor Children Wins Cross-Party Backing

Anthony Devlin/PA Archive
Labour MP Frank Field speaks at the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the UK in the House of Commons, London which launches a blueprint to eliminate hunger in Britain by 2020.

A bill to automatically direct Government cash to Britain’s poorest children has won cross-party backing from more than 100 MPs.

Labour MP Frank Field’s Free School Meals (Automatic Registration of Eligible Children) Bill, which will be heard in the Commons today, would put a statutory duty on all councils to identify and register all those youngsters eligible for help.

The legislation would require Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to act to help the 160,000 poor children in England currently not registered for a free daily hot meal.

The 10 Minute Rule Bill - which has Tory, Labour, SNP, DUP, SDLP and Green support - aims to correct the anomaly whereby families have to apply for free school meals rather than be automatically granted them on the grounds of their family income.

With schools’ Pupil Premium top-up cash directly linked to the number of children on free school meals on their books, many have lost out as numbers dropped with the introduction of ‘universal’ free meals under the last Government.

Mr Field’s bill aims to spread nationwide the practice of some local councils who automatically register those families in receipt of housing benefit and therefore struggling with finances.

It stems from the findings of a cross-party group of MPs and Peers, published last week, which offered a route map to ending hunger in the United Kingdom, ‘Feeding Britain in 2015-16’.

The group found that a small but growing number of local authorities are using their Housing Benefit records to identify families whose children are eligible, but not registered to receive free school meals.

Once identified, each family is informed by the local authority that their child has automatically been signed up to receive free school meals, with no need to fill in any forms unless they wish to opt out of entitlement.

Automatically registering those families eligible for free school meals cuts bureaucracy as well as the stigma of having to apply for the extra benefit.

Liverpool City Council, Bolton Council and Wirral Council all implement such a scheme to ensure their schools don’t lose out on Pupil Premium cash that is targeted a poor schools and can provide tens of thousands of extra funding.

The Department for Education’s most recent estimate suggested that 160,000 poor children in England were entitled, but not registered to receive free school meals.

Mr Field said: “A large number of children will have gone to school hungry this morning. Many of them will have struggled to concentrate in lesson after lesson on an empty stomach. Were the bill to be enacted, far fewer of them would be hungry at school each day in the New Year.

“And it would free up extra money for schools to ensure additional food for the poorest children at breakfast and before they return home after school.’

“The policy of automatic registration for free school meals has delivered a win-win situation in those areas of the country that have been bold enough to embrace it. And yet a large number of local authorities – we don’t know how many – won’t take up the policy without a nudge from Whitehall.

HuffPost UK has featured one scheme in Mr Field’s constituency which aims to help children avoid hunger during school holidays, by offering them a free meal as part of a playgroup scheme.

The list of MPs of all parties backing today’s bill includes:

Conservatives

1. Andrew Bridgen

2. Andrew Rosindell

3. Anne-Marie Trevelyan

4. Bob Blackman

5. Christopher Chope

6. David Amess

7. David Burrowes

8. David Davis

9. Edward Leigh

10. Fiona Bruce

11. Flick Drummond

12. Gary Streeter

13. Graham Stuart

14. Glyn Davies

15. Heidi Allen

16. Henry Bellingham

17. Jeremy Lefroy

18. John Glen

19. Jonathan Djanogly

20. Kevin Foster

21. Martin Vickers

22. Nicholas Soames

23. Peter Bottomley

24. Philip Hollobone

25. Steve Baker

26. Stewart Jackson

27. Tim Loughton

Labour

28. Adrian Bailey

29. Alan Johnson

30. Alan Meale

31. Alex Cunningham

32. Alison McGovern

33. Andrew Gwynne

34. Andrew Smith

35. Angela Rayner

36. Ann Coffey

37. Barry Sheerman

38. Ben Bradshaw

39. Bill Esterson

40. Caroline Flint

41. Clive Betts

42. Colleen Fletcher

43. Dave Anderson

44. Derek Twigg

45. Diana Johnson

46. Emma Lewell-Buck

47. Emma Reynolds

48. Fiona Mactaggart

49. Gareth Thomas

50. Geoffrey Robinson

51. Gerald Kaufman

52. Gisela Stuart

53. Graham Allen

54. Graham Jones

55. Graham Stringer

56. Helen Hayes

57. Helen Jones

58. Iain Wright

59. Ian Austin

60. Ian Lavery

61. Ian Lucas

62. Ivan Lewis

63. Jess Phillips

64. Jenny Chapman

65. Jim Dowd

66. Jim Fitzpatrick

67. Jo Cox

68. Joan Ryan

69. John Mann

70. John Woodcock

71. Jon Cruddas

72. Jonathan Reynolds

73. Julie Cooper

74. Karen Buck

75. Karin Smyth

76. Kate Hollern

77. Kate Osamor

78. Keir Starmer

79. Keith Vaz

80. Kevin Barron

81. Liz Kendall

82. Liz McInnes

83. Louise Ellman

84. Madeleine Moon

85. Margaret Beckett

86. Margaret Greenwood

87. Marie Rimmer

88. Mary Creagh

89. Meg Hillier

90. Mike Wood

91. Nic Dakin

92. Pat Glass

93. Paul Farrelly

94. Peter Dowd

95. Peter Kyle

96. Robert Blackman-Woods

97. Robert Flello

98. Roger Godsiff

99. Ronnie Campbell

100. Rosie Cooper

101. Ruth Smeeth

102. Shabana Mahmood

103. Sharon Hodgson

104. Siobhain McDonagh

105. Simon Danczuk

106. Stella Creasy

107. Stephen Kinnock

108. Stephen Timms

109. Stephen Twigg

110. Steve McCabe

111. Steve Reed

112. Steve Rotheram

113. Thangam Debbonaire

114. Tulip Siddiq

115. Virendra Sharma

116. Wes Streeting

117. Yasmin Qureshi

118. Yvonne Fovargue

SNP

119. John Nicolson

DUP

120. Gavin Robinson

121. Jeffrey Donaldson

122. Jim Shannon

123. Sammy Wilson

SDLP

124. Mark Durkan

Green

125. Caroline Lucas