Celebrity chefs join calls for extension of Free School Meals

Free School Meals

Celebrity chefs, NGOs, councillors, doctors and health organisations call for the extension of Free School Meals across the country in letter to all mayoral candidates

As the Mayor of London last week announced that 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.

The letters have been sent ahead of mayoral elections on 2nd May to call on all candidates across the UK to support nationwide action to extend free school meals.

The more than 80 signatories include celebrity chefs Tom Kerridge and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, as well as 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.

There are 900,000 children living in poverty in England who are missing out on national eligibility for Free School Meals.

It is unfair that all primary school children in London receive a free hot meal at lunchtime, with the same being rolled out in Scotland and Wales, while there are so many children across the rest of England who are living in poverty without getting the same level of essential support.

Outside of London, only children from households with an income below £7,400 a year (after tax, before benefits) are eligible; a threshold that has not increased since 2018.

New polling(1) commissioned by The Food Foundation and published today has found that support for FSM is high across areas that will be voting for metro mayors next week:

  • In the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) 79% of people support expanding Free School Meals to more children, while 73% support expanding the current scheme to all children
  • In Yorkshire 73% of people support expanding Free School Meals to more children, while 67% support expanding the current scheme to all children.
  • In Liverpool City Region Combined Authority 80% of people support expanding Free School Meals to more children, while 75% support expanding the current scheme to all children.

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 with an unhealthy weight and one in five households with children are currently experiencing food insecurity in the UK.

FSM 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.

If Free School Meals were extended to all children, for every £1 invested, £1.71 would be generated in core benefits driven by improved health, education and employment outcomes.

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."


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."


Celebrity chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, said: "Introducing Free School Meals for every primary school child in London has been an amazing policy initiative from Sadiq Kahn, making a real difference to children’s health and learning in the capital.

"It’s brilliant that he’s committed to making that a permanent policy in his manifesto. And it would be even more brilliant if it was expanded across England, so that all children can receive a nutritious meal at school to help them concentrate, thrive at school, and reach their potential."


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."


(1) Public First conducted anonymous, online surveys of 501 respondents in the West Midlands Combined Authority, 500 respondents in Yorkshire, and 501 respondents in the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, 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: polling@publicfirst.co.uk, 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.


Please contact: Juliet Grant on 07929075489 or email juliet.grant@foodfoundation.org.uk


Anna Taylor, Executive Director, The Food Foundation

Twitter: @Food_Foundation 
Instagram: food.foundation

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The Food Foundation is a charity working to influence food policy and business practice, shaping a sustainable food system which makes healthy diets affordable and accessible for all. We work in partnership with researchers, campaigners, community bodies, industry, investors, government and citizens to galvanise the UK’s diverse agents of change, using surprising and inventive ideas to drive fundamental shifts in our food system. These efforts are based on the continual re-evaluation of opportunities for action, building and synthesising strong evidence, convening powerful coalitions, harnessing citizens’ voices and delivering impactful communications.        
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