MORE Cumbria pupils are receiving free school meals than ever before as campaigners argue the Government should widen the eligibility criteria amid the cost-of-living crisis.

Department for Education figures show 11,635 children in Cumbria were eligible for free school meals in January – 16.5 per cent of all state school pupils in the area.

This was up from 15.2 per cent the year before, and the highest proportion since comparable records began in 2015-16.

In pupil referral units, the rate was 43.6 per cent in 2021-22 – the highest of all types of state education which had at least 100 pupils.

This was compared to five per cent in nursery schools.

In Cumbria, the highest rates were among children of mixed white and black-Caribbean ethnicity – 30 per cent.

Ethnicities with fewer than 100 pupils have been removed.

A Government spokesman said it was providing more than £37 billion to help families with rising costs and will continue to keep eligibility under review.