A politican who suffered childhood poverty has called for an end to the “stigma” Cardiff children face when claiming free school meals.
Canton councillor Ramesh Patel said the council must urgently introduce a cashless payment system to protect poorer schoolchildren from discrimination.
A total of 8,659 children (22.3% of all secondary and primary school pupils) receive free school meals in Cardiff.But just one secondary school, Willows High in Tremorfa, has so far introduced a cashless system.
There, pupils are given a cashless fob to use in the canteen.Research by Coun Patel found pupils at the city’s 20 other schools still pay with cash for their dinners, while pupils receiving free school meals are either given tickets or use ID cards.
Coun Patel claims the authority’s failure to introduce cashless schemes in all schools meant some children were going hungry to avoid being seen claiming free meals.
He told the Echo how he slept rough behind a derelict house in Riverside for three months as a toddler after his family emigrated to Cardiff in the 1960s.
And although he was entitled to free meals at Fitzalan High School in Leckwith, he would slip home at lunchtime to avoid being seen to claim free meals.
He said: “I know how hurtful it can be for children going through poverty.“My concern is that children will often go hungry because they want to avoid the stigma, which is more hurtful than anything else.
“When there is one group of children with tickets and the rest have cash, kids can be very cruel – a cashless system would help stop that.”
Cardiff council yesterday confirmed it planned to roll-out a “web-based biometric till system” in all schools – but not until September 2012.
The authority was unable to say how much the roll-out would cost, but council papers show the Willows High fob system cost about £30,000.
A council spokeswoman said: “The catering service is currently identifying a suitable specification for the system which will involve looking at how other local authorities have begun to address this issue.
“Once that specification has been completed the council will look to procure the system which will provide schools with an efficient system for receiving payment for schools meals and eradicate free school meal pupil visibility.”
National Association of Headteachers Cymru director Anna Brychan said: “We know that the fear of stigma of people knowing you have free school meals is preventing some eligible pupils from claiming the meals.
“We would very much be in favour of anything that gets rid of that disincentive and encourage the introduction of cashless systems everywhere.”
Bill Gray, interim head of Save the Children in Wales, said free school meals were a “key weapon” in the fight to close the gap in achievement between children born into poverty and other pupils.
How Cardiff secondary schools administer free school meals:
Bishop of Llandaff: Daily collection of card from receptionCantonian: Daily collection of card from reception Cardiff High: Issued with ID/photocard via reception Cathays High: Pupils queue outside dining hall to collect ticket Corpus Christie: Issued with five unique coloured tickets per week by reception Fitzalan High: Issued with ID photocard Glyn Derw High: Pupils collect ticket in dining hall Llanedeyrn High: Pupils collect ticket in dining hall Llanishen High: Collect ticket daily from reception Llanrumney High: Collect photocard daily from reception Mary Immaculate: Issued with individual card each week Michaelston College: Issued with photocard outside dining hall Radyr Comprehensive: Pupils name ticked off list at till Rumney High: Issued with ID photocard St Illtyd’s High: Card with name issued by reception St Teilo’s High: Pupils name ticked off list Whitchurch High: Issued with ID card each day by reception Willows High: Cashless fob automatically revalued at midnight Ysgol Plasmawr: Cards collected any time from staff Ysgol Glantaf: Collect card from reception daily