Why are school meals important?

several children playing together in a playground

School meals can provide important health benefits and contribute to the education of the children that receive them.

As presented in our Fair and Square campaign report, evidence shows that eating a nutritious meal at lunchtime has important health and educational benefits for children. The meals can improve their diet and increase their concentration during afternoon lessons. 

The meals can also help children to develop healthy eating habits and can potentially decrease health inequalities.

Teachers' views on free school meals

In order to get a clear picture of what is happening in school canteens across the country, we worked with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the National Union of Teachers, and together we surveyed 570 of their members to gain a greater understanding of the reality of school meals today.

Teachers told us that they see children coming into school hungry and some are witnessing first-hand the effects of poverty on children. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of teachers surveyed have experienced pupils coming into school with no lunch and no means to pay for one. Two-thirds (66%) of the teachers surveyed stated that staff provide pupils with food or money if they come into school hungry.

We also found that 98% of teachers support our Fair and Square campaign call for all children in poverty, including those in working families, to be able to receive a free school meal.

Read Food for Thought: A survey of teachers' views on school meals.

Free school meals help lift families out of poverty

Free school meals have a considerable cash value - around £370 per year - and as a result can play a crucial role in lifting children and families out of poverty. We estimate that free school meals already lift 140,000 children out of poverty. 

However, the impact could be much greater. Many children living in poverty, particularly those in low income working households, aren’t entitled to receive a free school meal, simply because their parents are in work. If the government expanded entitlement to free school meals to all families receiving Universal Credit, a further 100,000 children would be lifted out of poverty.

This could help towards keeping the government on target to end child poverty by 2020 and double the progress made on reducing child poverty in working households over the last decade.

For more detailed information, read our briefing document, Extending free school meals: What it means for child poverty in the UK.

Now is the time to act

Over the coming months the government will address the future of school meals as they overhaul the current welfare system.

This presents a unique opportunity to influence and improve the delivery of school dinners so that they are made available to children in low-income working families. The free school meals entitlement is important for millions of people. 

bar graph indicating 91% support for free school mealsNot only would this be good for young people, there is overwhelming support for allowing children in low income working families to receive free school meals.

A poll conducted by GFK NOP on our behalf found that 91% of people believe that free school meals should be available for all children in poverty, including those in working families. (See the graph to the right and read details of the poll inour report.)

Read the endorsements from the numerous organisations supporting our campaign.

Policy guidance

We have created a Fair and Square policy report that provides in-depth review of the state of free school meals, as well as the research we undertook to gather more information about people's opinions of the meals' importance.

For more information, please read David Hounsell's blog story and watch our policy adviser Sam Royston explain the report.


What you can do

Please join in today to ensure that young people receive a free school meal.

In addition, you can:


Please join in today - tell your MP to help ensure all children in poverty receive a free school meal.

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