OVER 2,000 children in Oxfordshire became eligible for free school meals during the pandemic, figures show.

The Children’s Society described the increase in eligible children as worrying and said the figures highlighted the damaging impact of Covid-19 on struggling families.

Department for Education figures suggest the pandemic led to a spike in the number of youngsters qualifying for free school meals, increasing from 1,505 in autumn 2019 to 2,294 in autumn last year.

READ MORE: List of Oxfordshire school closures due to Covid cases

The data shows that 12 per cent of all pupils in the county qualified for free meals - 11,585 in total.

The meals can be claimed if a low-income parent or carer receives at least one of a range of means tested benefits, including Income Support, income based Job Seeker's Allowance and Child Tax Credit.

In Oxfordshire, 32 per cent of pupils at special schools, 13 per cent at state-funded primaries and 11 per cent at state-funded secondaries received free school meals.

Nationally, more than 1.6m children were eligible for free school meals in October 2020, up from 1.4m in January of that year. More than 300,000 of them became eligible after the first lockdown was announced in March 2020.

Those studying remotely through the pandemic were provided with food parcels or vouchers.

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