Posted: 19 April 2012

Free school meals for all children in poverty

Today, we’re launching our Fair and Square campaign to call on the government to ensure that in the new welfare system every child living in poverty is entitled to a free school meal. Around one million children from disadvantaged backgrounds currently receive a free school meal, leaving 1.2 million children living in poverty who do not receive a free school meal.

Over the coming months the government will consult on the future of free school meals. The introduction of the new benefit system, which includes the universal credit, means that we have the opportunity to create a system in which all children in poverty are eligible for free school meals.

This is an opportunity for the government to invest in children, while ensuring that the universal credit works as intended by making work pay for families.

Why are free school meals so important?

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.

Getting free school meals also provides vital financial support for low-income families.  Free school meals are worth a substantial amount - for example a family with three children receiving free school meals save over £1000 per year.

Feeding children and enabling parents to work

Current eligibility criteria mean that when a family starts working more than 16 hours per week they lose all entitlement to free school meals. The government has indicated a similar situation would happen under universal credit with families losing all entitlement after earning a certain amount, for example £7500 per year.

This creates a huge deterrent for families to move into work or take on more hours or pay, as they could actually be worse off due to the loss of free school meals.

And families are worried. Of the parents we surveyed, 79% said they were worried about the financial impact of moving into work and losing free school meals for their children.

As we explain in our Fair and Square policy report, extending eligibility for free school meals to all children in families in receipt of universal credit will remove this deterrent for parents to go into work or work more. It will also ensure all children in poverty can have a free school lunch. This will require additional investment, a cost that can be borne by government, or part-funded by contributions from parents who are in work and whose children under our proposal would become entitled to free school meals.

91% of the public believe children in poverty should receive a free school meal

We believe this is a sound investment by making work pay for families and improving the health and educational attainment of an additional 1.3 million from more disadvantaged backgrounds – many in working families struggling with rising costs.

An overwhelming majority of people in the UK agree. Out of 1000 responses to our nationally representative poll, 91% of people believe that all children in poverty should receive a free school meal. (See our Fair and Square campaign report for more information.)

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

For more information, visit our Fair and Square campaign web pages.

By David Hounsell, Economic Advisor

By David Hounsell - Policy team

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my mum has just recieved a letter informing her that she is no longer entitled to free school meals she is a single mother and has 4 kids to look after how is she supposed to by lunch for us and it has hit her in most hardest times where we are struggerling

Whilst I wholly support providing free school meals for those who qualify my question is what happens to those children in the long school holidays? They still need to be fed and for some it is the only substantial meal they'll receive in a day. Some years ago I ran playschemes on a large housing estate. During that time I liased with Social Services for a local factory (who provided a canteen for their staff) to supply meals for children who qualified. It
worked very well and meals were supplied in a local school
sports hall. It can be done. Indeed it must be done in every city and town to protect these chidren from malnutrition.