A STRUGGLING couple say they have so little money they can only afford to buy their daughter one school lunch a week.
The rising cost of living means Ali and Simran Raza are cutting back wherever they can, including hot meals for eight-year-old Alishah.
Instead, the youngster goes to class with leftovers like pasta and salad, which her parents say she doesn't always eat.
But she always looks forward to Fridays when Ali and Simran fork out £2.10 for pizza and chips.
Ali, a self-employed wholesaler from Bradford, West Yorkshire, told the BBC: "We're just managing, and not very well."
In England, all state school pupils in reception, year 1 and year 2 can receive free school meals during term time.
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However, only the very lowest income families are eligible beyond this age.
As Alishah is now in year 3 at Dixons Marchbank Primary and her parents earn above the threshold, she no longer qualifies and they must pay.
Even while only coughing up once a week, money is still tight.
The family blames soaring energy costs and the fact their weekly supermarket shop has almost doubled.
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"It's not just an increase in one or two items, it's every single thing," Ali who has turned the heating off upstairs in their terraced home to lower their bills, said.
He is also seeing his profits rapidly declining at work, where he mostly buys and sells fruit and vegetables in bulk, which is only worsening the problem.
Jane Kenyon, founder of Girls Out Loud which works with vulnerable teenagers in the UK, said: "We’re seeing first-hand the effects that this cost of living crisis is having on young people in schools and it’s horrifying.
"For a lot of children and teenagers, school has been the only place to stay warm, feel safe and get a decent hot meal and now schools can barely offer that.
"We’re letting our children go hungry and it’s deeply concerning and so unnecessary.
"Stories that we’re hearing about young people only getting one proper lunch a week because that’s all their families can afford are becoming more and more commonplace and yet seemingly, very little is being done to combat this and protect the most vulnerable in society.
"We’ve seen amazing people like Marcus Rashford step in and help over recent years but this is the government’s problem and I’m calling on them to take immediate action and take responsibility for a crisis that shouldn’t be punishing our young people.
"Bring back free school meals. No child should go hungry. Something must be done and it must be done now."
Who qualifies for free school meals?
THE criteria for free school meals varies based on location and financial situation.
In Scotland, all students can get free school meals between reception and year five, regardless of their parents’ income.
In Wales, all pupils in reception get free school meals, and by the end of the year, this offer will be extended to all year one and two pupils.
In England, all children in reception, year one and two can get free meal school meals during term time.
Whether or not children qualify after that depends on whether you get certain benefits and your income.
In all three nations, you qualify if you are in receipt of certain benefits regardless of income, including: income support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and support under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
In England and Wales, this also includes the guaranteed element of Pension Credit, and working tax credit.
But for millions of families on Universal Credit, there are income requirements.
In England and Wales, you must have an income of £7,400 a year or less, not including benefits.
Those on child tax credits must earn under £16,190 a year.
These rules are much tougher than for families in Scotland, where those on UC must have a monthly income of £660 or less, which totals £7,920 a year.
Scottish families must have an income of less than £17,005 if they claim child tax credits, which goes down to £7,920 if they claim this as well as working tax credits.
Some eligible families can get free meals vouchers through school holidays, such as Christmas and half-term, but it varies between councils.
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