Calls for Metro Mayor candidates to support Free School Meals expansion

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Calls for Metro Mayor candidates to support Free School Meals expansion

As the Mayor of London last week announced the provision of Free School Meals (UFSM) for all primary pupils in London would be made permanent if he is re-elected, letters, coordinated by The Food Foundation have been sent to all metro mayoral candidates calling for them to champion bringing an end to the school food postcode lottery that leaves struggling families outside of London at a disadvantage.

Kate Anstey, Head of Education Policy, Child Poverty Action Group, said: "We expect kids to give their all at school but restrictive FSM criteria means thousands of local children don’t have the food they need to concentrate and learn.

"We are asking Mayoral candidates to do the right thing and back Free School Meals for all children.

"When all kids get free lunches, children’s health and learning improve, parents have one less cost to worry about and home-school relations are bolstered because dinner-money-debt-worries are taken away.

"Hungry children need the Mayoral candidates to speak up for universal Free School Meals."

Good nutrition in childhood should be non-negotiable; without it, not only do health outcomes worsen, placing extra pressure on the NHS but so do children’s life chances.

One in three children are leaving primary school an unhealthy weight and one in five households with children are currently experiencing food insecurity in the UK.

Free School Meals can ensure that all school children can benefit from a hot nutritious meal at lunchtime, helping to protect them from food insecurity, to be healthier and happier, able to do better in school and in the long-term, earn more over their lifetime. See here for more on the benefits of Free School Meals.

Celebrity chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, said: "We know that Free School Meals can have a hugely positive impact pupils health, learning and mental wellbeing.

"It’s great to see the scheme will potentially be made permanent in London, but we need to make sure young people across the country are receiving the same level of support."

The letters, signed by more than 80 people, including celebrity chefs, including Tom Kerridge and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, NGOs, academics, councillors, doctors and health organisations including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal Society of Public Health, the Association of Directors of Public Health and the National Education Union have been sent ahead of mayoral elections on 2nd May to call on them to support nationwide action to expand Free School Meals.

Celebrity Chef and Campaigner Tom Kerridge, said: "We need to end the postcode lottery in Free School Meals now.

"Every child should have a hot meal at lunchtime. Free School Meals provide a vital safety net for families struggling in the current cost of living crisis and policy makers need to commit to making sure every child in the UK can benefit, learn and go on to reach their potential."



Meanwhile, new polling(1) commissioned by The Food Foundation and published today has found support for Free School Meals is high across areas that will be voting in metro mayors next week.

Paul McDonald, Chief Campaigns Officer at Health Equals, said: "Our childhood shapes our future health, and poverty is one of the biggest risks to children’s health.

"Free School Meals will help protect children from poverty and provide them with a nutritious meal which will help them grow, learn better at school and have more opportunity to thrive.

"Providing Free School Meals is investing in our children’s future to give them every opportunity for a healthy and prosperous life."


West Midlands Combined Authority  

Key findings from West Midlands Combined Authority:  

  • 79% of people in the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) support expanding Free School Meals to more children, while 73% support expanding the current scheme to all children.   
  • 64% of those surveyed agree that it is a good use of local taxpayer money to expand Free School Meal provision given the health benefits.   
  • 95% of people in WMCA agree that it is important for children to be well fed in order to do well in school. 

Shona Goudie, Policy and Advocacy Manager, at The Food Foundation, said: "As the Mayor of London pledges to make provision of Free School Meals permanent for all primary state pupils in London if he is re-elected, it is heartbreaking to think that there are 66,000 children in the West Midlands Combined Authority alone who are living in poverty but still don’t have access to Free School Meals.

"This simply isn’t good enough. Today the local community is taking a stand. Each and every one of these children deserves better. They have a right to food just like anyone else.

"Ahead of the election we are calling on the mayoral candidates to join us in our call to national government to expand the provision of Free School Meals."

Case Study: Hillstone Primary School, Birmingham

The students at Hillstone Primary School in Shard End, Birmingham are passionate campaigners for the expansion of Free School Meals.

They have taken part in various campaigning activities including invited their MP, Liam Byrne, and the Labour Metro Mayor candidate, Richard Parker, to visit their school to hear about why they think Free School Meals should be available to all children in primary schools and the benefits that Free School Meas can give them.

They have been in the media raising awareness of this important issue across BBC Radio West Midlands, and BBC West Midlands TV last November (2023) and last week (April 2024). 54% of children at Hillstone qualify for the Government’s Free School Meal schemes, much higher than the national average.

In addition, Hillstone Primary School are passionate about providing pupils with inspirational and memorable learning, including through their extensive range of after school clubs which include cookery and eco-gardening.

They prioritise the promotion of smart eating habits, recognising their impact on health and life outcomes.

To foster healthier lifestyles, they sell fruits and vegetables at cost price, making them more accessible and encouraging their regular consumption.

Their school involves children and the local community in various growing projects, emphasising the importance of cultivating one's own food.

We advocate for a plant-based diet by featuring more vegetarian dishes in our school menu and during community events. This initiative is part of our broader commitment to promoting positive lifestyle choices within our community, highlighting the significance of readily available nutritious food. 

Our community engagement extends to running the Hillstone Grub Hub, pop-up vegetable markets, and practical cooking sessions. We provide parents and carers with recipes and culinary inspiration, integrating ingredients available through the Grub Hub on WhiskApp. 

We believe that introducing children to cooking and gardening at a young age fosters lifelong healthy habits. To support this, we offer classes for parents and carers to cook together, learn essential culinary skills, and understand the benefits of bulk cooking and freezing meals. These initiatives not only promote healthy eating but also offer financial benefits by teaching cost-effective meal preparation. 

The School Nutritional Action Group, which includes members from the school community, has played a crucial role in menu development, ensuring that the meals are both nutritious and appealing to students. Additionally, the school has engaged students and families in the process through surveys. 

Matthew Knight, Catering Manager, Hillstone Primary School, Birmingham, said: "The benefits of pupils having a hot nutritious meal at lunchtime are well documented.

"If students are well fed they are ready to learn, healthier and do better at school. We want this for our children and all primary school children in the West Midlands.

"As the cost of living crisis continues, we are noticing fewer children will opt for school meals if they have to pay.
"They are now bringing in lunch boxes and a school meal is seen as a luxury that many can’t afford.

"We think this is wrong and so we are calling on the politicians of the West Midlands to call on national Government to deliver the same rights that London children have and to make free school meals available for all primary children."


Liverpool City Combined Authority  

Key findings from Liverpool City Combined Authority:

  • 80% of people in the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority support expanding Free School Meals to more children, while 75% support expanding the current scheme to all children.  
  • 72% of those surveyed agree that it is a good use of local taxpayer money to expand Free School Meal provision given the health benefits.  
  • Our survey also found 97% of people in Liverpool Combined Authority agree that it is important that children are well fed to do well in school.  

Mrs Ann-Marie Ferrigan, Year 6 Teacher, Monksdown Primary School, said: "We are witnessing children experiencing hunger on a daily basis; we are witnessing an increase in dental problems and unhealthy diets.

"The children in our schools are feeling the impact of the rising cost of living. Families who, on paper, should be able to afford to provide a nutritious meal for their children are struggling.

"Sixty per cent of the families utilising our school pantry come from working-parent households, indicating the extent of their financial challenges.

"Implementing Free School Meals for all would guarantee that every child in Primary school has access to a hot, nutritious meal every day – sometimes the sole nutritious meal they receive in a day.

"Given that Scotland, Wales, and London have committed to providing Free School Meals for all, it raises questions about why children in the rest of England are not benefiting from this initiative.

"The positive impact on families and children in London serves as evidence of the effectiveness of this programme. What more needs to be done for this provision to be extended across England?" 

A 10 year-old student from Monkstown Primary School in Liverpool said: "We sit in class and watch our friends worry about money and have to ask our teachers for food as they have not got enough in their packed lunch.

"I don't understand why we are not allowed Free School Meals but if we lived in Scotland, Wales or London we would be entitled to a warm school meal every day.

"We have had to do a lot at our school to support each other with food, uniform and even trips.

"Please, please help families get themselves back on track and support them in getting Free School Meals, giving them a little bit of money to make sure they can support themselves."



Key findings from Yorkshire (covering West Yorkshire Combined Authority, York and North Yorkshire Combined Authority and South Yorkshire Combined Authority):  

  • Our new polling has found that 73% of people in Yorkshire* support expanding Free School Meals to more children, while 67% support expanding the current scheme to all children. 
  • 62% of those surveyed agree that it is a good use of local taxpayer money to expand Free School Meal provision given the health benefits.  
  • Our survey also found 97% of people in Yorkshire agree that children need to be well fed to do well in school. 

Case Study: Tom Foster, Head Teacher, Stainforth, Kirton Lane Primary School 
“At our school 90% of students live in the poorest 10% of postcodes. We’ve also seen an increase in the number of parents who are in work but are living on the breadline. We noticed that more and more families were having to ask us if they could have a bit more time to pay for their child's lunch. Families are really struggling. It began to impact attendance as parents were considering keeping their child at home rather than coming into school. We also had concerns about packed lunch standards as the majority of the time they just don’t have the same nutritional value.   

We discussed the situation with Governors, and it was decided that we would fund all school meals for primary students ourselves between January and April. As part of this, 51 additional pupils started receiving free school lunches. This cost us a relatively small amount, £8,425, but had a big impact on the students concerned. Prevention is also far better than cure where a child's health is concerned. There is nothing more important to invest money in than giving children a healthy start in life. On top of this the attendance rate for some case study students, who had gained access to free school meals, increased by 2.1%.  

We should be encouraging people to work, but currently even working families are worried that they won’t be able to afford a nutritious lunch for their children. We are proud that our school meals are balanced and healthy and every child in our care should be able to take advantage of this. Our school achieved some of the strongest results it’s had last year in KS2 and while we couldn’t say this is solely down to increased access to school meals, it certainly does mean that our students are well fed, healthier and ready to learn.”  

Fi Black, Community and Partnership Officer and Teacher of Food and Nutrition,The Halifax Academy, said: "Free School Meals for all children makes sense. Remove the stigma for all and make Free School Meals the norm.

"All children are required by law to attend school, and while there we must give them the best food possible to grow their ideas, creativity and joy for learning.

"Making an even playingfield for all pupils will help their mental well-being and give them the opportunity to enjoy food away from the stigma associated with being the 'one on Free School Meals'.  

"Feed all our children Free School Meals as well as imagination and learning at school."


Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, said: "As the transformative potential of Free School Meals is being increasingly recognised in London, we are calling for the scheme to be expanded nationwide to bring an end to the postcode lottery.

"Every child deserves access to healthy, nutritious food regardless of where they live. As we approach the 2024 general election, we urge all national political parties and metro mayors to pledge to do what’s right and ensure that no child in England is left to go hungry at school."


(1) The polling was commissioned by The Food Foundation, funded by Health Equals, and conducted by Public First. Public First conducted an anonymous, online surveys of 501 respondents in the West Midlands Combined Authority, 500 respondents in Yorkshire, and 501 respondents in the Liverpool City Region, from 8th – 23rd March 2024. The surveys were weighted using Iterative Proportional Fitting, or 'Raking'. The results are weighted by age, gender, and grouped social grade to locally representative proportions. Public First is a member of the British Polling Council (BPC) and abides by its rules. For more information, please contact the Public First polling team:, or visit our website. This polling was funded through Health Equals by The Health Foundation. The Health Foundation is an independent charitable organisation working to build a healthier UK.

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