Council budgets in Birmingham are being put under severe strain as more hard-up parents qualify for free school meals due to the recession and rising unemployment.
The number of city pupils eligible for free dinners is now more than double the national average as firms such as LDV go under.
And that has led to the head of children’s services in Birmingham going cap in hand to the Government for more money to help ease the funding crisis.
Coun Les Lawrence has called on Ministers to recognise the extra strain being placed on the council’s budgets due to the increase in children qualifying for free school meals.
He said the rise was a direct result of the current economic recession and rising unemployment as workers find themselves being made redundant.
Birmingham currently has more than 33 per cent of pupils on free school meals compared to the national average of 14 per cent.
The city receives the equivalent of £4,605 per pupil from the Government, but is having to allocate £22.5 million to schools for free school meals in 2009-10.
Coun Lawrence, the council’s Cabinet member for children, young people and families, said: “It is important that children eat healthily and nutritiously and this is what we seek to provide with our school dinners.
“Those whose families cannot afford to pay for school meals should not be excluded, which is why there is free provision for these families.”
The city has not put a figure on how much additional cash help it is seeking from the Government.
But Coun Lawrence added: “In the current tough economic climate there is more pressure on the school dinner service, but the amount of money we receive from the Government has remained static.
“Clearly there is a funding gap and at the moment we are having to utilise already strained budgets to plug the deficit.
“If Ministers are serious about the health and well-being of some of our most vulnerable young citizens I urge them to provide additional funds for free school meals as a matter of urgency.” Recent figures show the West Midlands has the worst unemployment rate in the UK at 10.3 per cent, while the national jobless rate is the highest since the mid-1990s with 2.4 million out of work.
Currently 52,524, or 33.4 per cent, of Birmingham’s 157,035 schoolchildren of all ages qualify for free school meals, but the figure is likely to grow as unemployment rises.