Posted: 03 October 2012

Dressing as a dinner lady at Labour party conference

Dressed as a dinner lady, chasing MPs down streets in rainy Manchester is not my typical Monday afternoon. However, as Labour party conference is currently underway four fellow 'dinner ladies' and I took our Fair and Square campaign to the politicians!

Fair and Square calls for all children in poverty to get free school meals. Currently 1.2 million - over half of all school age children living in poverty - are missing out on free school meals. Of these young people, 700,000 are not even entitled to them mainly because their parents are working. 

We sported delightful hairnets and aprons, and handed out Fair and Square cereal bars to attract the attention of the VIPs and attendees at Labour conference.

Despite the rain, it was a great success as we spoke to many people about the campaign and got many more signatures to our join. (If you haven't already joined our campaign, please do!)

Alastair Campbell signing our Fair and Square petitionMeeting Labour MPs and members

We chatted with Channel 4's Jon Snow, Liberty's Shami Chakrabarti and Alastair Campbell. Many MPs, Lords and other delegates also indicated their support for our campaign.

Shadow secretary of state for education, Stephen Twigg and former education minister, Lord Andrew Adonis both agreed on the importance of free school meals for disadvantaged children. 

Although the Labour party is currently not signing up to spending commitments there is clearly support for free school meals and the idea of ensuring entitlement is made fair. 

Laura lifts the lid of a dinner tray for Victor Coaker, MPLunchtime quiz

There was also a lot of support from conference attendees who were tempted by our offer of a free cereal bar.

We quizzed them about how many school children in poverty they thought were not entitled to free school meals. Their answers ranged from 2 million to none.

However, everyone was shocked when we lifted the lid of our silver tray to reveal the answer – 700,000. This support echoes our nationally representative poll found that 91% of adults believe all children living in poverty should get free school meals.

Government action

We're campaigning now because the government will revise the entitlement criteria for free school meals with the introduction of the new universal credit benefit system next year.

We see this as a historic opportunity to ensure all children living in poverty are able to benefit from free school meals.

We are calling for free school meals entitlement to be extended to all children in families in receipt of universal credit.

Next week we'll be at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham. If you are in the area – come down and meet The Children's Society dinner ladies! 

By Laura Rodrigues, Policy Officer

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By Laura Rodrigues - Policy team

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