The rising cost of living has been reflected in new figures released by the Isle of Wight Council.
One of the most shocking numbers is the number of Island children claiming free school meals increased by 37 per cent and more than 32,000 food vouchers were issued in the last year.
Kim Goode, the area director of children’s services, revealed the figures at the council’s health and wellbeing board yesterday (Thursday).
Free school meals are available to children whose parents receive benefits or have an income of less than £7,400, so an increase in the number of children on free school meals can be an indicator of declining living standards. In January 2021, 21 per cent of all Island state school pupils, or just over 3,500, were eligible for free school meals.
The issue of poverty was highlighted by the council’s regeneration director, Chris Ashman, who said they were being told about increasing pressures in the emergency food supplies sector.
As part of the Island’s Covid recovery, he asked if a strategic emphasis could be placed on the anti-poverty agenda as well as commitment from public agencies on the Island to tackle the issue in a progressive way.
Through the government’s shared prosperity fund, more than £1 million has been allocated to the council to support new skills and businesses as well as working with communities. Mr Ashman said proposals would come forward suggesting the best ways the resources could be used.
Earlier this week, the Island’s first community pantry scheme launched in East Cowes (see our report on page 10). As an alternative to a foodbank, anyone can join the scheme where a £5 membership each week guarantees at least £15 of fresh or frozen foods as well as cupboard staples.
Two more are set to be rolled out next month, in Ventnor and Ryde, targeting where the need is said to be highest.
At the meeting, leader of the council, Cllr Lora Peacey-Wilcox, said the administration’s top priority would be to deal with poverty, housing and homelessness.