About 25% of the families with children in the UK experience food poverty, for instance having to skip meals or eat less – and that is nearly three times as high as it was during the pandemic lockdowns. But not all the children in these families get free school meals. There is now a cross-party campaign to extend free school meals to all pupils.

Eggcup supports this campaign. This is why:

  • School Meals are healthier – School meals have improved a lot (see Jamie Oliver’s campaign) and their standards mean they provide more nutrition, are more satisfying than a sandwich or meal deal or chicken bits and chips from a local shop – or nothing at all.
  • Children who eat well perform better – Many studies have shown improved performance by students who get school meals. And that is not surprising – a high sugar, high fat fast food diet – or having nothing at all – makes a child drowsy, less alert, less able to maintain attention through the afternoon.
  • The current rules mean many kids in poverty are excluded: If a family receives Universal Credit, the parents can’t earn more than £7400 from work – or less than 14 hours a week on minimum wage. But on UC, a parent caring for school age kids is expected to work 25 hours a week. In Northwest England, 30% of kids in poverty don’t qualify for free school meals.
  • Selective free school meals stigmatise kids: Free School Meals are used across government other institutions to identify the poorest kids. And school pupils themselves pick up on who gets free meals and who doesn’t. If every child could get the meals, it would be one less marker of poverty.
  • School meals should be for all pupils.  One proposal is that free school meals be extended to all families receiving Universal Credit and other means-tested benefits, so that parents didn’t have to run the obstacle course of criteria and keep an eye on their wage packets. But that would still exclude many children in working families who need school meals, and it would only reinforce the idea that free school meals are a marker of poverty.
  • Free School Meals work: Some countries already offer free school meals, including Finland (since 1943), Sweden, Brazil, and India, and US states such as California, Colorado, and Maine, and cities such as New York. In the UK, Scotland already offers free school meals to all pupils, and London has promised them for 2023-24. And of course infant pupils (reception and years 1 and 2) already get free school meals in the UK. There is good evidence that all these programmes have benefits, for health, education, and the economy.

We at Eggcup believe all children need healthy food at school, and they shouldn’t be stigmatised for getting it.

Want to read more? Here is where we got our facts:

And thanks to DC Central Kitchen on Flickr for our image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dccentralkitchen/7296217086/in/album-72157659526465182/