LGBT+ teens who receive free school meals more likely to struggle with addiction, ‘concerning’ study finds

Student in remote school class during the pandemic

LGBT+ children who receive free school meals are more likely than their peers to struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, a new survey has found.

The survey conducted by the charity Just Like Us found that secondary school pupils eligible for free school meals, which are provided to low-income families, were three times more likely than their peers to have a dependence on drugs or alcohol.

While three per cent of secondary school pupils not eligible for free school meals struggled with addiction, this doubled to six per cent of those who were eligible. When those children were also LGBT+, the number jumped to nine per cent.

LGBT+ kids eligible for free school meals also struggled significantly more during the pandemic than their peers, with 75 per cent reporting that their mental health had worsened in the last year, compared with just over half of pupils who were neither eligible nor LGBT+.

Of the queer teens eligible for the provision of school meals, 64 per cent said they were worrying daily about the state of their mental health, compared to 35 per cent of their non-LGBT+, higher income counterparts.

Shockingly, half of the 3,000 students surveyed said they had not heard any positive messaging at school about being LGBT+.

Dominic Arnall, chief executive of Just Like Us, said: “We are really concerned by the findings from our research, which shows that secondary school pupils who are LGBT+ and eligible for free school meals are facing significantly higher rates of mental health struggles.

“It’s clear from our research that the impact of coronavirus and lockdowns have not fallen evenly… LGBT+ young people who are eligible for free school meals are having to cope with multiple challenges during the pandemic and we see this reflected in the data – we are really concerned for these vulnerable young people and at Just Like Us we know how important it is that LGBT+ young people get positive messaging and support about being themselves at school and at home.

“If young people feel safe and welcome at school and know they can be themselves, they are more likely to feel able to ask for support during this difficult time.

“We know this is a very difficult time for everyone and it’s also important that the burden doesn’t fall on school staff who are already under immense pressure – that’s why Just Like Us is here to help and we have free educational resources available to support you.”