Schools minister and East Hampshire MP Damian Hinds has addressed concerns over fair access to free school meals for children with special educational needs.

In an impassioned debate in Westminster Hall on Wednesday, January 10, Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby, Ian Byrne, brought attention to the challenges faced by children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities in accessing free school meals.

Byrne, who moved the motion, said: "I am pleased to be leading this debate on fair access to free school meals for disabled children and those with special educational needs, to ensure that their voices are heard in this House."

Byrne expressed gratitude to constituents and campaigners, including Irene Dow and Natalie Hay from the charity Contact, for their tireless efforts in shedding light on the injustices faced by families.

He emphasised that children with conditions like diabetes, epilepsy, and autism were being denied financial assistance, leading families into debt and reliance on food banks.

According to Mr Byrne: "Contact calculates that more 164,000 disabled children are unable to access their free school meals."

Damian Hinds, the Minister of State for Education, responded by acknowledging the importance of nutritious school meals in aiding children's development and learning.

Mr Hinds outlined the government's commitment to free school meals, stating: "We spend over £1 billion a year delivering free lunches to the greatest ever proportion of school children – over a third."

He defended the government's record in extending eligibility, adding: "That change came despite employment being up by millions, unemployment being down by a million."

Hinds addressed concerns about SEN children, emphasising the government's dedication to making reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.

He assured that schools should tailor their food provision to meet individual needs, saying: "All schools have duties under the Equality Act 2010 towards individual disabled children and young people, and they must make reasonable adjustments to prevent them being put at a substantial disadvantage."

In conclusion, Ian Byrne thanked the minister for his commitments and vowed to monitor progress closely, stating: "Our beady eyes will be watching the progress of the commitments that have been made."