Posted: 19 December 2017

One million children in poverty are missing out on free school meals

More than a million children in poverty will miss out on free school meals under changes currently being considered by the Government.

What are free school meals?

Children from families who receive certain benefits can have a healthy school meal free of charge. This is worth around £400 a year per child, which can make a huge difference to struggling families. 

Our Fair and Square campaign succeeded in guaranteeing all children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 a free meal regardless of their family income. But many children older than those in Year 2 are still missing out, and we believe every child in poverty should get a free school meal.

What is the Government proposing?

The Government is now consulting on changes to free school meals for children in Year 3 and above.

The Government’s proposed changes are part of the rollout of Universal Credit, the new benefit intended to simplify the welfare system and make it easier for people to move into work.

Until now, all children from families on Universal Credit have been able to receive free school meals, whatever their age. But under the new proposals, only families earning less than £7,400 a year would be eligible - a huge step backwards.  

Why does this matter?

We’re worried because if the Government’s proposals go ahead, one million children in poverty who are aged 7-8 and above will miss out on free school meals.

By introducing an income threshold, the Government is undermining the fundamental principle of Universal Credit to ‘make work pay’. If a parent takes on additional work that pushes the family income over this threshold, they will actually be worse off financially as they will no longer be eligible for free school meals, worth around £400 a year per child. This is not a progressive step forward for the welfare system, and risks putting off families from taking on extra work.

The considerable cash value of free school meals provides a crucial lifeline for families in poverty. Research also shows that eating a nutritious meal at lunchtime has important health and educational benefits for children, and can improve their diet, concentration and classroom behaviour. 

What now?

We want the Government to ensure every child in poverty is guaranteed at least one nutritious meal a day. Help us convince them by responding to the consultation.

Join our campaign


By Scott Compton

Read more

Fair and Square: Free school meals for all children in poverty

Posted: 13 April 2012


Read more

Fair and Square - free school meals and more

Posted: 5 July 2013