Toggle high contrast

No child left behind - Free school meals for all

Published date
A free school meal for every child will ensure all children can thrive and no child is left behind.

Today I will join the National Education Union’s (NEU) national week of action - campaigning for Free School Meals. Over 200+ civil society leaders have signed this joint open letter to the Prime Minister calling for Free School Meals for All. The coalition will be handing in the letter and petition to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street.

Why are we doing this?

The Governments own data shows 2 million children are living in food insecure households. There are 4.2 million children in poverty, a third of all children. A shocking increase of 600,000 since 2010/11. And just over 70 percent of children in poverty are from a working family.    

The current guidelines on free school meals are restrictive, particularly in England, where only the very poorest children, those whose parents’ income falls below £7,400 receive them. There are also large differences between who can get a free school meal in the UK, Wales and Scotland are currently rolling out free school meals in primary schools.

Analysis by Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) shows that children in poverty in England continue to be overlooked by government measures, with over 1 in 3 (800,000) children in poverty not qualifying for free school meals.

At the same time the cost-of-living crisis continues, and food inflation alone has increased by 19 percent over the year. With families under immense financial pressure, it is more important than ever to provide free school meals for every child. For many children, free school meals are their main source of hot and nutritious food.

Teachers report that children are increasingly coming to school hungry. Surveys show that hunger affects children’s behaviour at school. In one survey 88% of schoolteachers saw pupils being excessively tired, 84% said children were easily distracted, 74% observed disruptive behaviour and 54% said children displayed anxiety. 

These levels of hunger can’t be acceptable in twenty-first century Britain. But we know that free school meals, alongside other measures to boost family incomes, can help give kids a better start.

How can free school meals help?

Free school meals for children boost their well- being and academic attainment. The Department of Education pilot on universal free school meals, found there was a significant positive impact on attainment for primary school pupils at Key Stages 1 and 2, with pupils in the pilot areas making between four and eight weeks’ more progress than similar pupils in comparison areas. Importantly, attainment was most improved for pupils in less affluent families. 

In 2020, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (LBHF) trialled providing free school meals to all pupils (aged 11–16) in two secondary schools. Results from interviews with those who were involved in the scheme, showed an overall positive impact on pupils’ behaviour, concentration, food insecurity, healthier diet choices, and mental health of both students and their families.

And when free school meals are universally available to all children it removes the stigma associated with receiving a free school meal, increasing take up among the children who most need this. The NEU calculate the cost of free school meals for primary school children in England is 0.88bn. That’s a small cost to pay to ensure children are fed and participate in school activities. And making sure the youngest children have a healthy free meal each school day should be a step on the road to universal free school meals.  

The TUC is calling today for universal free school meals for all children. But that must be just one part of a strategy for reducing child poverty. That strategy must tackle issues of insecure work, low pay, and inadequate social security, soaring housing costs, unaffordable and accessible childcare, which leave so many children and families struggling to survive.

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).

Setup now