19 Apr 2012

More than half of all school children living in poverty - 1.2 million - are missing out on free school meals, reveals shocking new research by The Children’s Society.

And 700,000 are not entitled to free school meals at all, according to Fair and Square

Yet the report shows that 91% of UK adults believe that all children living in poverty should receive free school meals. 

In this country, 2.2 million school children are living in poverty. The Children’s Society is today launching a campaign to make sure that all children living in poverty can get a free school meal.

Free school meals provide vital financial support for low-income families, argues the charity. For almost a third of children, school lunch is their main meal of the day. 

The Children’s Society’s Fair and Square campaign exposes that eligibility for free school meals also has serious ramifications for families in low paid work and those looking to move back into work. 

The planned introduction of Universal Credit means that many of the current benefits used to assess who is entitled to free school meals will be scrapped. A completely new system of entitlement is set to be put into place in the next year. 

The Children’s Society, backed by several organisations including the Trades Union Congress, the Association of Lecturers and Teachers and 4 Children, wants the government to extend free school meals to all children living in poverty, including low-income working families.

At the moment lone parents working 16 or more hours a week (24 hours per week for a couple) lose their entitlement to free school meals. Nearly half (45%) of parents are worried about the financial implications of moving back into work or taking additional hours. 

Six of out of ten parents (60%) say that free school meal eligibility has a direct impact on their decision to move back into work, or work more hours. One parent surveyed said: 'When I move into paid work my income will be lower - school lunches are yet another thing to worry about.'

The Children’s Society’s Campaign for Childhood Director, Elaine Hindal, said: 'We have shown that there are literally hundreds of thousands of children living below the poverty line who aren’t getting a free school meal. There is no reasonable defence for this policy failure.

'The government has an unique opportunity to extend free school meals to all low-income working families, so that no child living in poverty misses out. This would be in line with the government’s aim to make work pay by paving the way for many families to return to employment and help lift them out of poverty.'

Evidence shows that eating a healthy meal at lunchtime improves children’s concentration and can have a positive impact on classroom behaviour.  Nutritious school meals for disadvantaged children can also help develop healthy eating habits and have the potential to decrease health inequalities.

The government has pledged to end child poverty by 2020.

Sign The Children’s Society’s petition to ask the government to make sure that all children living in poverty can get a free school meal at http://action.childrenssociety.org.uk/fair-and-square


Media enquiries

For more information, please call David Dinnage in The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422 or email david.dinnage@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508. 

Notes to editors

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. 

The Fair and Square campaign is calling for:

  • the extension of eligibility for free school meals to all children living in poverty in England by October 2012 
  • to increase the number of local authorities and schools committed to introducing cashless or other non-stigmatising systems for the delivery of free school meals by March 2013
  • to secure a commitment to review and improve the implementation of the guidance on nutritional standards for school meals across local authorities by March 2013

Some of the organisations supporting The Children’s Society’s Fair and Square campaign are the Association of Lecturers and Teachers (ALT), Caritas, Children England, Compass, Ekklesia, Family and Parenting Institute, Joint Public Issues Team, the National Autistic Society (NAS), the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Sense, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Young Minds, 4 Children. A full list of endorsements is on the Fair and Square website.

Visit the campaign website at www.childrenssociety.org.uk/fairandsquare