The Independent is partnering with a coalition of organisations co-ordinated by the Food Foundation to call on the Government to extend free school lunches to all children in poverty in England.
As many as 800,000 children who are living in poverty do not qualify for free school meals, leaving them at risk of going hungry as their families battle the cost-of-living crisis. With households facing severe financial pressures this winter, The Independent and these organisations are stressing the need for urgent action.
The current policy restricts universal free school meals in England to pupils from Reception to Year 2. Above this group, households on universal credit who earn more than £7,400 a year, not including universal credit (just £617 a month after tax), are not eligible, irrespective of the number of children in the family.
The campaign, Feed the Future, will run in partnership with Food Foundation and eight other organisations, including School Food Matters, Chefs in Schools, Bite Back 2030, Sustain, Child Poverty Action Group, Impact on Urban Health, National Education Union and Jamie Oliver Ltd.
A report by Impact on Urban Health, released exclusively to The Independent and the Evening Standard, shows that the societal and economic benefits of removing this threshold and providing free school lunches for all children in poverty in England, would be £8.9 billion over a 20-year period. This would come at a cost of £6.44 billion, providing a net benefit to society of £2.45 billion.
England currently lags behind the rest of the United Kingdom in its free school meal provision. Wales and Scotland have announced plans to give universal free school lunches to all primary school children, while Northern Ireland has almost doubled its ineligibility income threshold to £14,000.
Support for expansion in the provision is widespread with a new survey by YouGov for the Food Foundation revealing that 72% of the public support the expansion of free school meals to all children in poverty.
Independent readers can support the campaign by writing to their local MP, using this tool, or signing the campaign petition, from Bite Back 2030, which can be found here. The initiative will be supported by an advertising campaign on The Independent.
Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, said: “Government can deliver on its levelling up promise by committing long-term to free school meals for all schoolchildren, but for this winter, the focus should be on safeguarding low-income children facing extreme cost-of-living pressures by ensuring they receive a hot, nutritious meal at lunch. The Government should immediately prioritise the introduction of free school meals for the 800,000 children living in poverty who don’t currently qualify.”
David Cohen, Campaigns Editor, The Independent, commented: “As households face rising financial pressures, it is more important than ever that the Government acts, to ensure that hundreds and thousands of disadvantaged children across England avoid the blight of school hunger that is damaging their life chances. The Independent has a long history of challenging, debating and making change happen, and this campaign is very much in that vein.”