Richmond officials have raised fears that kids in the wealthy borough aren’t having free school meals because they’re afraid of what their classmates will think.

A new report has revealed children eligible for free school meals at one Richmond school stopped taking up school dinners after lockdown.

Lib Dem councillor Nancy Baldwin told Richmond Council’s health board on January 12 “there is still quite a number of children who are eligible for free school lunches who aren’t taking them up”.

The board looked at a report on the progress of the healthy schools programme in Richmond, one year on from its relaunch.

Councillor Baldwin said: “There was one school where the children, even [though] they were eligible for a free lunch, were bringing packed lunches and part of [the report] was to discuss with governing body and teachers and everything to get the children to take up the free school lunches.

“My big thing at the moment is cost of living… and I think if you can continue emphasising how very, very important that is because free school lunch is the gateway, if you will, to things like the fuel programme and things like that.

“So thank you for taking it up but if you could press it even more because I know there is still quite a number of children who are eligible for free school lunches who aren’t taking them up and if we can figure out what it is, i’m assuming… a lot of it will be stigma, but if we could get ways of helping along that it would be so helpful in order to get these kids getting everything that they’re entitled to.”

The report said the school had noticed many “children who previously accessed school dinners reverted to taking a packed lunch, including children on free school meals” after returning from lockdown.

It said the school had decided to “work towards increasing uptake of school dinners, particularly for children who were eligible for free school meals”.

Natalie Daley, a consultant on public health in Richmond, told the meeting four schools in Richmond had been awarded healthy schools’ status since the relaunch.

She praised the work of schools and partners in the scheme, adding that “we’d like to undertake an equality impact needs assessment to inform the second year of the programme delivery”. 

Daksha Mistry, interim manager of the Kingston and Richmond Safeguarding Children Partnership, later said the partnership had been “talking about poverty before this current cost of living crisis and really thinking about how we can enable and skill our practitioners across Richmond to talk about poverty with families in a way which just feels comfortable”.

She continued: “I think we’ve already mentioned today the issue of shame or not wanting to access free school meals or ask for help or financial help – particularly in an area which is known to be relatively affluent, so it’s not something people are used to talking about here.”