Calls for action as 250,000 eligible children missing out on Free School Meals

© 2023. Provided by Impact on Urban Health licensed via a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.

To mark International School Meals Day we've joined 130 charities and councils in writing to Schools Minister Damian Hinds calling for the government to ensure all children entitled to Free School Meals receive them.

An outdated opt-in system means 250,000 eligible children are missing out miss on this vital nutritional safety net and schools are also losing millions of pounds of much needed funding.

Introducing auto-enrolment would solve this issue and ensure young people living in some of the most deprived households in England receive the hot daily school meal they have a right to.

With our latest figures showing 20% of households with children in the UK experiencing food insecurity in January 2024, the need for Free School Meals to lighten the financial burden on families struggling with the cost of living crisis remains urgent.

As a matter of urgency, the letter calls on National Government to:

  • Commit to introducing a revised Free School Meal registration process so that all children entitled are automatically registered
  • In the interim, promote and support local authorities to implement the ‘opt-out/right to object’ FSM model
  • Provide datasets to each council to show the current levels of under-registration, by combining relevant Department of Education and Department of Work and Pensions datasets
  • Currently, outside of London, only children from households with an income below £7,400 a year (after tax, before benefits) are entitled to FSM; a threshold that has not increased since 2018. This is despite inflation and price rises.

Shona Goudie, Policy and Advocacy Manager at The Food Foundation, said: "We are extremely concerned that the opt-in system for free school meals is disproportionately impacting minority groups and further entrenching inequalities.

"Currently the administration to sign up is complex and burdensome and many families face language or literacy issues when trying to navigate the system.

"Free school meals meals are intended to provide a nutritional safety net for the poorest in society, but currently due to inefficient administration by national policymakers they are not reaching those who need them most.

"Autoenrollment should go hand in hand with increasing eligibility so that the 900,000 children living in poverty in the UK who are not currently eligible for free school meals are also able to benefit from a healthy, nutritious meal at school."

For more details about the importance of Free School Meals read about our Feed the Future campaign.

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