Children claiming free school meals earn less than adults despite education – ONS

Children who qualify for free school meals earn less on average than their peers, despite reaching the same level of education, according to new data.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said data released Thursday showed a “permanent income gap” between those who received free school meals and other students.

Free School Meals (FSM) are available to students living in a household with an income of £7,500 or less and attending a publicly funded school.


According to ONS statistics, children who claimed free school meals earned less as adults than their more affluent peers (Joe Giddens/PA).

Despite achieving the same skill level, disadvantaged students continued to earn less than their peers.

The largest gap over time was among those who held Level 4 qualifications, such as Higher National Certificates (HNCs), a job-related vocational qualification obtained after Level A, with non-Public FSM students continuing to earn on average. 1.3 times more – about 5,260 pounds.

Including former students from private schools, the gap was largest among those who achieved level 6 qualifications, including graduates with a bachelor’s degree.

For example, by age 30, those who claimed to be FSM were earning an average of £24,863, about £19,381 less than their privately educated counterparts.

FSM pupils also earned an average of £6,063 less than public education pupils who were not eligible for assistance.

The conclusions are made after analyzing long-term administrative data collected on 38 million people.

The ONS said that part of the overall income gap is due to the fact that people from low-income backgrounds are much less likely to get higher education.

According to data collected over 16 years, by age 30, only 16.2% of those who claimed to have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 28.2% of those who did not meet the FSM requirements, and 57.3% of adults, who went to independent schools. , from 2003 to 2019.

Regardless of level of education, half of the students who claimed FSM were earning less than £17,000 by the age of 30.

The same figure was £22,717 for former pupils who did not use the FSM and £33,042 for privately educated pupils.

The ONS said this gap “can be largely explained” by differences in education, work experience, ethnicity, gender and “other possible factors”.

However, it states that “very small differences in income were due to ethnicity, gender, and the region in which the individual lived while in high school.”

A student receiving free school meals with the same characteristics as their independent school counterpart still earns about 20% less on average, he said.

Children raised in low-income families need to catch up with their peers from an early age.Sarah Ogilvy, Child Poverty Action Group

The ONS said it cannot measure factors such as social skills such as confidence, networking and labor market knowledge, which may be related to a person’s marital status or opportunities available to them, such as access to work experience.

Sarah Ogilvy, director of policy, rights and advocacy for charity Child Poverty Action Group, urged the government to do more after the release of the data.

She said: “Children who grow up in low-income families need to catch up with their peers from an early age. The long-term and short-term effects of poverty are clear: children leave school earlier, earn less, and struggle to advance in the workplace.

“All children deserve a fair start in life, and the best way for the government to ensure that is by investing in family welfare. But at the moment, we cannot provide the children of the country with the opportunities that everyone deserves.”

James Turner, chief executive of the social mobility charity Sutton Trust, said the data supports education as a “key driver” of the gap and called the university the “most reliable route” for social mobility.

He added: “It is very important that we continue our efforts to expand access to universities, especially to the most select institutions.

“But today’s data also highlights broader issues around access to the workplace.

“Our own research has shown that young people from low-income families face significant barriers to accessing many of the most competitive jobs.

“It is very important that we use talent from all walks of life in our society and support young people from all walks of life to succeed.”