Meg T on 22 July 2021
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Q. Do you get free school meals and what difference do they make?
As I have been home educating my 16 year old son since 2019, we became no longer eligible for free school meals. There is no financial provision for home educating parents on low incomes at all. The stereotype is that home educating parents are all wealthy and that because you chose not to have your child educated in the mainstream education, you are solely responsible for that decision financially too, no matter if you home educated because your child was not thriving in a conventional school environment. It feels like you are being punished for making the best decision for your family. When we were last in receipt of free schools in Year 9, the daily allowance was £2.30 per day. It was a cashless system, so no stigma as such compared to my day when children in receipt of free school meals had to hand over a paper token. I was grateful for the help, obviously. But £2.30 for lunch doesn't go far when you have a hungry, growing teenage boy. The food he had access to was either not to his taste (he has issues with textures), nor was it to his liking (healthy eating-phobic, despite my best efforts). What was available was often poor quality and limited so he would always come home hungry. Access to water was available via water drinking fountains, but according to my son, these were often out of order and not very hygienic. So any drinks, including bottled water had to be bought, despite my pleas for him to take his own drinks bottle with him, which cut into the food budget. Breakfast was always on offer before leaving for school, but often declined. Often he would use his allowance at morning break, because he was hungry, so missed lunch as he had already spent up, compounding the situation. Also any money not spent on one day, instead of remaining in his account would be swept away into the great ether somewhere and the balance reset at £2.30 the next day, so he was constantly having to price up what he could and couldn't afford, making his reliance on free school meals obvious in a more subtle but still embarrassing way. We never did find out what happens to the money from the leftover balances, either. Nowadays, now I'm no longer in debt, my food budget is manageable, but that's only because my middle son has moved out, so I'm only shopping for two of us, not three. But at one point during the pandemic, I was relying on the Real Junk Food Project's freegan box scheme - redistributing perfectly edible food, both fresh and manufactured that would be destined for landfill as it was only £10 per week to supplement my grocery shopping. I would have been sunk without them.
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