Data discussion: excluded pupils, free school meals, food banks and Universal Credit


Every month at City Bridge Trust our Data Analyst, Dr Emma Horrigan, compiles and shares a Data Digest, based on recent, impactful reports published by charities, quangos and civil servants.

A man sorting bags of groceries in a food bank. Photo by Aaron Doucett.

Members of the Trust team get together for an informal discussion of these reports, focusing on issues that affect London as a whole, but particularly Londoners facing disadvantages.

We use this to discuss who the Trust could be supporting, and for sharing our own individual sector knowledge and experiences with colleagues. This approach is part of our ongoing mission to put learning at the heart of our decision making.

Education and free school meals

The discussion began with a look at schools, and wondering about outcomes for disaffected and excluded pupils during the pandemic. We are aware that some young people may be slipping through the cracks, unsupported and uncounted.

We don’t always have the answers, which means it’s my job, as data analyst, to find relevant reports. However, recent research, although rich in data, doesn’t seem to have focussed on pupils who are excluded or simply disengaged with primary or secondary education. This is, perhaps, an area of research that needs supporting.

Sticking with schools, we then talked a lot about free school meals and what it means to be on them. It can be difficult for parents or a single parent to admit they have found themselves in circumstances where they have to apply for free school meals for their child or children, and doing so can bring shame and self-recrimination.

There is also a lot of worry from parents that children will feel stigma by being singled out at school in this way. In fact, many poorer children can feel stigmatised at school.

Poverty audits and hunger

One of our staff members said that in a previous role they undertook poverty audits in schools, looking at how established practices might lead to children feeling ‘branded’ as poor, and advising on ways to improve such practices. For instance, ensuring all children receive free school meals can reduce the perceived stigma associated with such meals.

Our thoughts then turned to food banks and their use, looking at the Trussell Trust’s recent State of Hunger report. Obviously we welcome people being helped, but the prevalence and increase of food banks is not a good news story. Organisations that have switched to supporting local people with food during the pandemic are finding it hard to go back to their normal operations, because once they have supported that need, it can be difficult to go back.

For instance, some premises are now being used for food storage, and yet they need the space to support all the things they were doing pre-pandemic. So our question is – how do we support food banks and those who need them, while encouraging change so that foodbanks are no longer necessary.

Food banks are evolving

Another key point about food banks is that lots of them have evolved into community hubs and advice centres, some even providing washing machines or shower facilities. Others are trying to move away from being seen as just a ‘food bank’ and are setting themselves up as a shop where you pay what you can – or nothing at all. And yet others are offering access to credit unions, a vital intervention against payday loans.

These are welcome innovations and services that are clearly needed and it’s great that people can get a range of support in one place. It’s clear any move to end food banks would need to provide other ways of extending these initiatives, to those who need them.

Universal Credit

We then moved on to our final topic, that of Universal Credit and the built-in five week wait for a first payment. This leaves many accepting advanced payments that they then have to ‘pay off’ through reduced benefit payments. It is clear that the wait can push people further into poverty, and that the benefit level itself is one of the key drivers of food bank use.

We join the chorus of voices from across the sector (such as The Big Issue, Child Poverty Action Group and Turn2Us) asking for the £20 uplift, introduced at the start of the pandemic, to remain in place.

Blog by Dr Emma Horrigan, Data Analyst with City Bridge Trust.

Photo by Aaron Doucett on Unsplash

More information

This blog illustrates informal discussion within the City Bridge Team and does not necessarily reflect established Trust policy or views.

No Longer ‘Managing’: The Rise Of Working Poverty And Fixing Britain’s Broken Social Settlement by the Institute for Public Policy Research (PDF)

State of Hunger: Building the evidence on poverty, destitution, and food insecurity in the UK. Year two main report, by the Trussell Trust (PDF)

Understanding progress in the 2020/21 academic year. Interim findings, January 2021. Department for Education (PDF)

Special education in lockdown: The experiences of school and college providers and families of pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) (PDF)

Data discussion: disability, food poverty and slow cookers

In our last Data Digest the team looked at recovery plans published by The Mayor of London and the Government, Full Fact’s report on information health, the Institute for Employment’s report into stigma at work due to obesity and the Centre for Social Justice’s Disability Commission Report.