7 Mar 2013

Analysis reveals huge numbers of children in poverty throughout the country are missing out on free school meals.

Our new analysis reveals a stark picture for children living in poverty across England. It found that in 57 constituencies alone, more than six in 10 children in poverty are not getting a free school meal. In some areas more than two-thirds of children in poverty missing out on free school meals. (Use our interactive map to learn about the situation in your area.)

The highest proportion of children in poverty missing out on free school meals are in the east, southeast, southwest and London. The joint top two constituencies are Horsham, and Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, at 69%, closely followed by Mitcham and Morden, and Arundel and South Downs at 68%.

Of England’s 533 constituencies, only 22 have fewer than 10% of children in poverty missing out on free school meals.

Fair and Square

Through our Fair and Square campaign, we are calling on the government to make free school meals available to all children in poverty. We urge all people to contact their MP to support this call. 

For some children, a free school lunch may be the only proper meal they get. Nearly half of teachers we surveyed said they often saw children going hungry in school.

For parents in poverty, finding the £370 a year needed for each child’s school meal often means struggling to provide their children with the basics, including buying them shoes for school and heating their home. 

Many low-income families are unable to get free school meals simply because their parents are working – no matter how little they earn.

'Huge numbers of children in poverty miss out on a free school meal'

Matthew Reed, our Chief Executive, said: ‘It is shocking that huge numbers of children in poverty across the country are missing out on a free school meal. Every child in poverty should be entitled to this vital support.

'We know from the families we work with up and down the country that parents are struggling to make ends meet. Right now, the government is reconsidering which children will be entitled to get free school meals. We urge the government to take this opportunity to make sure all children in poverty can get a free school meal.'

In collaboration with 38 Degrees, we have already gathered more than 90,000 signatures in support of the campaign. With the introduction of changes to the benefit system under Universal Credit, the government has an important opportunity to make this happen.

Across the country every day, more than half of the 2.2 million school children living in poverty in England miss out on a free school meal. Of these, 700,000 are not even entitled to one – often because their parents work, regardless of how little they earn. 

Local data

Please see our interactive map for the full breakdown by constituency.

This table identifies where the highest proportion of children in poverty who are not getting a free school meal are:


Media enquiries

For more information, please call Beth Herzfeld in The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422, 07775 812 357 or email beth.herzfeld@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508. 

Notes to editors 

  • Six in 10 children living in poverty are in low-income working families.
  • To establish the numbers of children in poverty who are missing out on free school meals per constituency, we subtracted the number of children known to be registered for free school meals from an estimate of the number of children in poverty (after housing costs) in each constituency. 
  • The Children’s Society wants to create a society where children and young people are valued, respected and happy. We are committed to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, including children in care and young runaways. We give a voice to disabled children, help young refugees to rebuild their lives and provide relief for young carers. Through our campaigns and research, we seek to influence policy and perceptions so that young people have a better chance in life. 
  • 38 Degrees is one of the UK's biggest campaigning communities, with over 1 million members. 38 Degrees members use lots of different tactics to bring about change, like signing petitions, emailing or phoning MPs and chipping in to fund newspaper ads about its campaigns.