Leaders at 10 major food companies back Free School Meals campaign

A child enjoying a Free School Meal

Business leaders from 10 of the UK's biggest food companies have written to Education Secretary Gillian Keegan in support of the Feed the Future campaign.

Top officials from Morrisons, Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Asda, Iceland, Co-op, Lidl, Aldi, and Caterlink have added their names to calls for Free School Meals to be expanded to all children from families in England who receive Universal Credit - to help those missing out on a daily, nutritious school lunch.

The high-profile letter says: "In light of a deteriorating level of food security across the UK, impacting four million children (or one in four households with children), we are extremely concerned that 800,000 children living in poverty are not currently eligible for Free School Meals.

"In the coming months, food insecurity in the UK will inevitably rise. Increasing energy bills will place pressure on household budgets and limit funds available for food.

"Simultaneously, external pressures are causing everyday groceries to rise in price. Many families are approaching breaking point.

"As food retailers, we witness first-hand the daily struggles our customers face to feed their families. We are committed to doing all we can to support them – with several actions set to be implemented in the coming months – but we cannot do this alone.

"For this reason, we call on the Government to do more to protect children and ease the burden on struggling parents."

School meals

The letter adds Free School Meals have numerous long-term benefits, which should not be ignored.

"Lack of access to good food and proper nutrition during childhood can have a devastating effect on children’s educational attainment, physical and mental health, and social wellbeing - all of which have lifelong consequences," it says.

"We cannot leave children in this precarious situation. Free School Meals can be an effective and targeted way to address these problems. With access to a hearty school lunch, children can better concentrate in class and keep up with their peers.

"School meals also provide better nutrition than most packed lunches, which can facilitate healthy physical development. In the long-term, providing this nutrition can reduce the chance of a child suffering from obesity and associated conditions.

"In the face of food insecurity, parents do everything in their power to protect their children, often going without food themselves. By guaranteeing their children will receive a decent meal, every day, at school, you can relieve the anxiety and stress felt by millions of parents across the UK."

The letter also makes reference to "critical economic benefits".

"Over a twenty-year period, expanding the provision of Free School Meals would require an investment of £6.5 billion," it says.

"Yet, when we consider the core benefits – including savings to schools, the NHS and food costs for families, as well as increased lifetime earnings – it would generate a return of £8.9 billion.

"Furthermore, it would return an additional £16.2 billion in benefits to producers and suppliers in the school food economy.

"As such, expanding the Free School Meals scheme is a sensible economic decision for the Government – not a burden.

"We encourage you to use the Budget announcement on November 17 to commit to expand Free School Meals to all children from families in England that receive Universal Credit as a first step to universal provision, so no child has to go through the school day hungry."

Signatories of the letter include: David Potts, Chief Executive Officer of Morrisons, Richard Walker, Managing Director of Iceland, Simon Roberts, Chief Executive Officer of Sainsbury’s, Hayley Tatum, Chief People & Corporate Affairs Officer at Asda, James Bailey, Executive Director of Waitrose, Giles Hurley, Chief Executive Officer of Aldi, Shirine Khoury-Haq, Chief Executive of the Co-op, Ryan McDonnell, Chief Executive Officer of Lidl GB, Jason Tarry, Chief Executive Officer of UK & ROI at Tesco, Neil Fuller, managing director of Caterlink, and TV chefs Jamie Oliver and Tom Kerridge.

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