A RECORD-BREAKING number of children in Barnsley are on free school meals, shocking new figures have revealed.

Statistics, revealed by the Department for Education, show that 9.593 children in Barnsley were eligible for free schools meals in January.

It equates to more than 27 per cent of all state school pupils across the borough.

They’re the highest figures on record, up from 26.1 per cent the year before.

In state-funded special schools, more than 52 per cent were eligible - the highest of all types of state education.

It’s higher than the national average of 22.5 per cent - with the cost-of-living crisis having an effect on the pockets of local families.

Dan Jarvis, MP for Barnsley Central, has called on the Conservative government to act urgently - labelling the statistics as ‘shameful’.

“These trends are deeply concerning to see and chime with the countless conversations I have had with families across Barnsley who are struggling to make ends meet,” he said.

“This is the devastating reality of the Conservative’s cost-of-living crisis and a damning indictment of the government’s complete inability to help people live with decency and dignity.

“A tax hike on working people, a callous Universal Credit cut and now spiralling energy and food bills.

“It’s shameful that Barnsley families and children are paying the price for the Conservative’s failures, the government must urgently step up support to get people through this very tough period.”

New research conducted by Loughborough University, on behalf of the End Child Poverty Coalition, show 33.4 per cent of children aged 15 and under were living in households with less than 60 per cent of the national median household income after housing costs.

In Barnsley, statistics show children of black-African ethnicity were the most likely to get free school meals at 42.9 per cent.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, has slammed the latest figures.

“Even more shocking is the fact that current eligibility does not even capture all the children who need help,” she added.

“Free school meal eligibility now applies nationally to 22.5 per cent of pupils, but we know that the level of child poverty is about 30 per cent.”

Barnsley Council received more than £2m in government funding to help people with the increase in their food and fuel costs last month.

The council will distribute the funding to people in receipt of pension credit and households with children who receive a benefit-related free school meal.

A spokesperson added: “There’s no need to apply for this support fund, as we’ll be sending out letters to everyone who’s eligible.

“If you’re eligible for the fund, you’ll receive a letter in July.

“This will include a barcode which you can take to the post office with a form of ID to receive £150 in cash.

“Take a look at barnsley.gov.uk/more-money-in-your-pocket for more information and support to help with the rising cost of living.”