ONE in eight York children are receiving free school meals - as data shows the number of pupils eligible has hit a record high.

Children are entitled to free school meals if their parent or carer is on benefits, with a household income of less than £7,400 a year.

Since the start of lockdown on March 23 2020, 767 York children have become eligible.

The majority are primary school pupils, but 206 are at secondary school, 13 at special schools, seven in pupil referral units and two of the newly eligible children are at nursery.

Iain Porter from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says the pandemic has had a "devastating impact" on many families despite "significant measures taken by the Government".

He said: “The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the incomes of many families as shown by the dramatic rise in number of children eligible for free school meals in York.

"Despite significant measures taken by the Government to protect incomes, millions of families across the country have experienced real hardship over recent months.

“The events of recent months has also shone a spotlight on the fact that the wider support available to families going into the pandemic was inadequate.

"That is why it’s vital that the Government does not weaken our social security system further by cutting Universal Credit by £20 a week in October.”

The number of children eligible for free school meals in York is the highest since records began, with 3,349 pupils eligible in January - 13 per cent of all state school students.

Danesgate Community pupil referral unit has the highest proportion of children on free school meals - 43.8 per cent. Wheldrake with Thorganby Church of England Primary School has the lowest, with 0.5 per cent receiving free school meals.

York Outer MP Julian Sturdy says the data shows that Covid restrictions are hitting economic activity and damaging low income households.

He said: "These figures are an important reminder of the serious economic impact Covid has had on our city, and strengthen the need to get the local economy firing on all cylinders again, which will benefit struggling households most by creating jobs and raising wages.

"Here is clear evidence that continuing Covid restrictions and suspending normal economic activity is damaging low income homes.

"These numbers also highlight the very substantial support the government has put in place to aid affected families, beyond free school meals including the £400 million package to help households with children with food and bills announced in November and running to June, welcomed by campaigner Marcus Rashford."

"Over £1 million has been allocated to some 1,996 families in York. Universal Credit benefits were also increased by £1,040 a year, a rise extended for another six months in the March budget, something I lobbied Ministers on privately."

York Central MP Rachael Maskell, speaking in Parliament, called for Government to do more to tackle rising inequality caused by the pandemic.

She said: “It is extremely sad that the Government has allowed so many people to become dependent on food banks and hand-outs. This should never have happened."

"Everyone should have enough money to live on.

"I want everyone to have somewhere to call home and enough money to pay their bills and put food on the table.

"It is heartbreaking that there are so many people in desperate need of help in Britain at the same time the Covid crisis has created record number of billionaires.

"This inequality is shocking and I am calling on the Government to stop ignoring the crisis and do something about it. In the debate, I set out a Labour vision to the Minister which included investment in good quality jobs, building a greener, welcoming and more inclusive city, ensuring that York is family friendly and building the homes that local people want to live in and social infrastructure to cause our communities to thrive.”

In October 2020 City of York Council stepped in to provide free school meals during school holidays for children, using the Government’s Covid-19 Winter Grant to fund the scheme.

The Department for Education said it was providing a £14 billion increase in school funding over three years.

A spokeswoman added: "School leaders can target our ambitious recovery funding, worth £3 billion in total, to further support disadvantaged pupils with their attainment.”