Charity Awards 2024


Secured a government commitment to improve its guidance on free school meals for disabled children

Contact realised that 164,000 children were missing out on their free school meals entitlement, for any one of several reasons: they may have been too ill to attend school, were waiting for a suitable school place, or could not eat the meals because of a health condition.

Contact at ParliamentThis meant that the children, many with conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy or autism, were missing out on the equivalent of £570 a year in financial support – even though the law stated that those who couldn’t claim their meal should be issued with a supermarket voucher instead. In some cases, this was causing families to get into debt and turn to foodbanks, Contact found.

The charity discovered that Natalie Hay, the mother of an affected disabled child, had begun campaigning for access to the vouchers after her son received some for the first time during lockdown. Contact began working with Natalie to galvanise interest among other parents and take the campaign to the government.

A crowdfunding campaign paid for lawyers to draft letters to the government alleging discrimination, and template resources for parents to request a reasonable adjustment in place of their child’s free school meal. Other tactics included media activity, and lobbying of MPs and peers.

Eventually the government conceded that its current practice of excluding some children from their free school meals entitlement was indeed discriminatory, and agreed to update its guidance, with new guidance expected to be published in March 2024.

The guidance is still awaited but Contact has already heard that hundreds of families have begun receiving supermarket vouchers as a result of the campaign.

It estimated that if every family that was eligible to claim their vouchers did so, the gain to those families would be around £93m.

Charity Awards chair of judges Chris Sherwood, CEO of RSPCA, said Contact was a highly credible organisation with a portfolio of good, impressive work that was exemplified by this campaign.

Katie Ghose, CEO of KIDS, added that “the cost that society puts on people for being disabled is just huge”, and that this achievement would make a tangible difference to so many families.

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