Free school meals for one in four primary school pupils

Coun Chris Brewis with Ritchie Slade and Lucy Salter, who were four-years-old when they opened the Sutton Bridge children's centre in May 2008.
Coun Chris Brewis with Ritchie Slade and Lucy Salter, who were four-years-old when they opened the Sutton Bridge children's centre in May 2008.
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Sutton Bridge is the poorest place in South Holland with more than one in five children living in poverty.

The news is no surprise to Westmere Primary School, where a quarter of the 200 pupils claim free school meals.

Family hardship means the school gets added cash to spend on things like one to one child tuition in the classroom so their education is actually better than it would otherwise be.

Next door to the school is a Sure Start children’s centre – which was opened in 2008 to advise on things like 
family health, parenting, money, training and employment.

But there are signs that Sutton Bridge is plunging further into crisis and there are fears there is worse to come with a massive overhaul of the benefits system from April 1.

Agapecare Food Bank co-ordinator Irene Davies said the number of food parcels given to families in need from its Market House base in Long Sutton has doubled to around 90 compared to the first six weeks of last year.

So-called “bedroom tax” means people claiming housing benefit will get less money if they have a bedroom classed as spare and the Universal Credit – which replaces some benefits – will make it harder for some to manage when they are handed a single monthly payment.

Mrs Davies said people will have to budget carefully otherwise they will find themselves in debt.

Some Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants are already falling foul of sanctions for turning up late for appointments and are having payments stopped for two, four or even six weeks.

She said: “People are just struggling phenomenally out there.”

Sutton Bridge and Long Sutton are a little over three miles apart as you drive along Bridge Road yet 22 per cent of children are in poverty in Sutton Bridge while it’s almost half that – 12 per cent – in Long Sutton.

Long Sutton Parish Council chairman Ruth Barber says levels of child poverty are “terrible” whatever they are, but cannot pinpoint reasons why there should be such a gulf between the two settlements.

She is a trustee of a charity that helps youngsters from Sutton Bridge and Long Sutton with things like school uniforms and expenses for university and applications have leapt from one or two to more than 30.

Sutton Bridge Parish Council chairman John Grimwood said he knows one family who will leave the village and go to Holbeach because they cannot afford to lose benefits when the bedroom tax comes in.

He says the village offers some employment, although many work in King’s Lynn and Spalding, but he too can’t say why there is such a vast gap between poverty levels in Sutton Bridge and neighbouring Long Sutton.

“It’s very concerning,” he said.

Coun Grimwood would like the district council to do more to fill industrial units standing empty in Railway Lane as well as bring more jobs to the industrial area at Wingland.

“A lot of people make the comment we are at the end of the county and nobody bothers with us,” he said.

His vice-chairman, Coun Michael Booth, says the jobs must not come at any price and he wants to see public safety put first when planners decide an application for a £300million biomass power station at Wingland.

Coun Nick Worth chairs governors for a federation of schools including Westmere and says the Sutton Bridge children benefit from a “pupil premium”, which gives an extra £44,000 to spend in the classroom.

“We want to make sure that we can give them the best education that they can have,” he said.