Children who claim free school meals earn less on average than their peers despite achieving the same level of education, according to new figures.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said figures published on Thursday showed a “persistent income gap” between those receiving free school meals and other pupils.
Free School Meals (FSM) is available to students who live in a household with an income of £7,500 or less, and attend a state-funded school.
Despite achieving the same ability level, disadvantaged pupils continued to earn less than their peers.
The biggest differences over time were seen among those who gained Level 4 qualifications, such as Higher National Certificates (HNC) – a work-related, vocational qualification taken after A-levels – which Non-FSM state-educated students moving forward to earn 1.3 times more on average – around £5,260.
The gap was highest among those with a Level 6 qualification, including bachelor’s degree graduates, including former students of private schools.
For example, by the age of 30 those who had claimed FSM earned an average of £24,863, around £19,381 less than their privately educated counterparts.
FSM pupils earned an average of £6,063 less than state-educated pupils who were not eligible for aid.
The findings came after analyzing long-term administrative data collected on 38 million people.
The ONS said part of the overall income gap is due to people from income-deprived backgrounds being less likely to go on to higher education.
By age 30, only 16.2% of those claiming FSM had a Level 6 qualification – for example a bachelor’s degree – compared with 28.2% of those who did not qualify for FSM and 57.3%. Adults who attended independent schools, according to data collected over a 16-year period from 2003 to 2019.
Regardless of educational attainment, half of students claiming FSM earned less than £17,000 by the age of 30.
The same figures were £22,717 for former students who did not use FSM and £33,042 for privately educated students.
The ONS said the gap “can be largely accounted for” by differences in education, workplace experience, race, gender and “other possible factors”.
However, it said that “very small differences in earnings were attributable to ethnicity, gender and the area where a person lived when they attended secondary school”.
It said a free school meals student with similar characteristics would still earn on average 20% less than an independent school counterpart.
Children growing up in low-income households have to play catch-up with their peers from an early age.
The ONS said soft skills such as confidence, networking and knowledge of the job market, related to a person’s family background or the opportunities available to them, for example factors in access to work experience. cannot measure
Sarah Ogilvy, director of policy, rights and advocacy at the charity Child Poverty Action Group, called on the government to do more following the publication of the figures.
She said: “Children who grow up in low-income households have to play with their peers from an early age. The long-term and short-term effects of poverty are severe – children leave school earlier, earn less and are less likely to work. Struggle for progress.
“All children deserve a fair start in life and the best way for the Government to deliver this is to invest in social protection for families. But we are currently failing to give the nation’s children the opportunity that everyone deserves. deserves
James Turner, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity, said the data confirmed that education was a “key driver” in closing the gap and said universities were the key to social mobility. is the “sure way”.
He added: “It is absolutely vital that we continue to work to widen access to university, and particularly at highly selective institutions.
“But today’s data also highlights broader issues about access to the workplace.
“Our own research has shown that young people from low-income backgrounds face significant barriers to accessing many competitive careers.
“It is vital that we harness the talents of all sections of our society and support young people from all backgrounds to succeed.”