25 January 2024
Families outside London having to send their children to school without food
A joint survey by The Food Foundation and The Bread and Butter Thing (TBBT) has found families outside of London are having to send their children to school without food due to the cost of living crisis.
The results highlight the postcode lottery of access to a nutritious healthy lunch in England.
Earlier this month it was announced Universal Free School Meals for state primary school children in London will be extended for another year, but families across the rest of England are still facing strict eligibility criteria.
TBBT, which runs 120 food clubs for people on low incomes across the North West, North East, Yorkshire and the Midlands, received nearly 3,000 responses from its food club members to questions about how they were coping with rising prices.
The study found that of the households that didn’t have access to Free School Meals:
- 16% had to send their child to school without lunch some days because they couldn’t afford school meals or packed lunches, with an additional 42% worried this would happen in the future
- 32% said their child ate a smaller lunch at school some days because they cannot afford school meals or packed lunches
- 31% said their child eats a less healthy lunch at school some days because they cannot afford school meals or packed lunches
- 85% wanted their child to receive free school meals
At least 900,000 children living in poverty in England are missing out on Free School Meals due to the strict threshold set by government.
The Food Foundation is calling on politicians from all parties to extend access to Free School Meals to all school children, with the first step being to immediately target children from families receiving Universal Credit.
Previous polling from The Food Foundation, showed 82% of Labour voters and 53% of Conservative voters were in favour of extending FSM immediately to all children receiving Universal Credit, followed by extending it to all school children in the future.
Shona Goudie, Policy and Advocacy Manager at The Food Foundation, said: "Lack of action by national policy makers to extend eligibility criteria for school lunches is unfair and will only serve to exacerbate regional inequalities, with schoolchildren outside of London not having access to the same benefits and life chances.
"There are hundreds of thousands of children outside the capital who are living below the poverty line but don’t qualify for a nutritious school lunch.
"As we enter an election year, policymakers across the board should commit to ensuring no child in the England is left to go hungry at lunchtime."
The results of the survey have prompted renewed calls from headteachers and school staff across England for more children to be made eligible for Free School Meals.
Matthew Knight, Catering Manager, Hillstone School in Birmingham, said: "Whilst we welcome the further extension of FSM to all London primary school children, in Birmingham and the midlands thousands of children will go without a hot nutritious meal at lunch time by virtue of them being in year 3 and not living in London.
"We are hearing stories of hard working families having to choose between paying essential bills or paying for a school meal, we are noticing an increase in packed lunches and as the cost of living crisis really starts to bite after Christmas the quality of contents is deteriorating."
- Data from the survey was analysed by Dr Megan Blake from the University of Sheffield.