The Government has denied “dragging their feet” over whether to make free school meals permanently available to children in some families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF).
Children and families minister Will Quince told MPs he hoped to make an announcement “at the earliest available opportunity”.
But he agreed that, even if this was not made permanent, the Government could not force schools to stop giving meals to children from NRPF families who would otherwise go hungry.
In effect, there is certainty at the moment, because the temporary extension remains in place. I want to be able to announce an outcome to this as soon as possibleWill Quince MP
NRPF is a condition applied to those staying in the UK on a temporary immigration status and who have not yet qualified for permanent residency in the UK, restricting their access to public funds.
In April 2020 the Government temporarily extended free school meals to children in some NRPF families as the coronavirus outbreak impacted schools.
Charities and campaigners such as England footballer Marcus Rashford have called for this to be made permanent, and the Government has been reviewing this for over a year.
Mr Quince told the Work and Pensions Committee the matter was an “absolute priority” and he hoped to make an announcement “sooner rather than later”.
He said: “In effect, there is certainty at the moment, because the temporary extension remains in place. I want to be able to announce an outcome to this as soon as possible.
“But it is not a matter of different government departments dragging their feet.”
I don't want to sort of predetermine or prejudge what the outcome or decision will be. But supporting the most disadvantaged families is at the heart of what this government doesWill Quince MP
Mr Quince said the extension would remain in place until a permanent decision was made.
If it was withdrawn, the minister agreed that schools could continue providing free meals to children who were going hungry.
He said: “I don’t want to sort of predetermine or prejudge what the outcome or decision will be.
“But supporting the most disadvantaged families is at the heart of what this government does.
“We, and certainly in our department, want every child to achieve and reach their potential, regardless of their background.”
He added that “schools have always been able to give free school meals or give meals to children where they believe it is appropriate to do so, and we very much support schools in their autonomy to do that.”