04 September 2023
Labour and Conservative voters overwhelmingly back giving Free School Meals to more children
Labour and Conservative voters overwhelmingly back giving Free School Meals to more children
- A significant majority of Labour voters and over half of Conservative voters support extending Free School Meals to more children
- Non-Labour voters say a commitment to expanding free school meals by Labour could swing their vote
- With all London primary school children now eligible, Feed the Future campaigners warn of greater regional inequalities without wider expansion across the country
Expanding access to Free School Meals is overwhelmingly supported by Labour and Conservative target voters, according to new research from the School Food Review Working Group.
Polling found that a staggering 82% of prospective Labour voters and over half of prospective Conservative voters (53%) are in favour of extending free school meals immediately to all children from families receiving Universal Credit, followed by a future expansion to all school children.
The new research, commissioned by the School Food Review Working Group, comes as universal primary Free School Meals are rolled out across London for a year-long pilot.
The School Food Review Working Group, a coalition of 30 organisations from across the school food system, found that the majority of respondents (71%), including both Conservative and Labour voters, think the current income threshold is inadequate or should not exist at all.
Polling questions and data visualisation available here.
#FeedtheFuture campaigners are calling on both the Conservative and Labour parties to commit to nationally expanding the eligibility to all children, urgently targeting children in households receiving Universal Credit as a priority. The Liberal Democrats and Green Party have already stated their support for this policy.
At present, only children from households with an income below £7,400 a year (after tax and benefits) are eligible. This has not increased since 2018 despite prices rising and means that an estimated 900,000(1) schoolchildren living in poverty are not eligible.
Polling shows decisive action would motivate swing voters
Free School Meals have been a cornerstone of our state education system since 1906 and, over the decades, every political party has supported the policy’s progress(2).
However, the leaders of both main parties are now coming under increasing pressure from their own backbench MPs, party members and constituents to expand Free School Meal eligibility.
The Liberal Democrats and Green Party already support eligibility extension but so far, neither Labour nor the Conservatives have made any concrete commitments. This is despite overwhelming evidence that an expanded programme would result in improved educational and health outcomes, and longer-term economic prosperity.
Respondents were asked how Labour adopting a policy to extend Free School Meals would affect how they would vote in the future. In the case that Labour committed to extending Free School Meals to all children on Universal credit immediately and in the long-term providing them for all children in primary and secondary education:
- 65% of prospective Labour voters would be more likely to vote for the party, and 64% of 2019 Labour voters
- 23% of 2019 Conservative voters and 18% of those who intend to vote Conservative would be more likely to switch to Labour
- Undecided voters would be far more likely to vote Labour than not.
The results suggest supporting Free School Meal expansion could help swing significant support for Labour or cost the Tories votes from their previous voters.
Free School Meals deliver a variety of health, educational and economic benefits
As of this week, all primary school children in London are now eligible for free school meals for this academic year, meaning 287,000(3) more will have access to hot, nutritious food. The benefits of Free School Meals have long been proven, with children found to be healthier and happier, able to do better in school and in the long-term earn more over their lifetime(4).
While this move has been welcomed by campaigners, they warn that a lack of action on a national scale is unfair and will exacerbate regional inequalities, with school children in other areas not having access to the same benefits and life chances.
Recent research commissioned by Impact on Urban Health(5) quantified for the first time the economic benefits of extending Free School Meals. It found that expanding Free School Meals to all school children could generate nearly £100bn for the economy over 20 years.
For every £1 invested, £1.71 would be generated in core benefits driven by improved health, education and employment outcomes. If the policy was expanded to all children on Universal Credit, for every £1 invested, £1.38 would be returned.
In support of the mayor’s intervention, Jamie Oliver joined by other supporters and campaigners will be celebrating the first week of all London primary children receiving a Free School Meal on social media using the hashtag #JoinTheJoyscroll.
Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, said: "This research has an instructive new finding. People now believe that children eating well in school to support their learning is so important that it would affect which party they vote for in the next election.
"It’s a clear signal that the status quo is both unfair and damaging, and voters want it fixed."
Anna Garrod, Policy and Influencing Director of Impact on Urban Health, added: "This research confirms that Free School Meals expansion is a key issue for voters and a move to support it would appeal to swing and undecided voters.
"Impact on Urban Health evidence shows it is a cost-effective policy change that supports families and boosts children's health and attainment throughout their lives.
"We urge policymakers to take this opportunity to create a more equitable school food system across the country – to support all children to access healthy, nutritious food, and in doing so build a healthier society and more resilient economy."
Chef and campaigner Jamie Oliver said: "It’s great to see that voters across all parties want to put child health first. This reflects what I’m hearing across all my social channels - it’s time to prioritise our children’s health.
"We know that nourishing young minds with nutritious food is an investment in their future, boosts our economy and our health.
"Sadiq Khan has recognised this by giving all primary school children a Free School Meal and now we need politicians across all parties to put child health above politics and act now."
Councillor Bob Webb, Heworth Ward, City of York said: "At the recent election in York, people told us that Free School Meals made sense.
"Families across York supported our ambition to mobilise the City to provide these meals and we intend to start a pilot programme to see what can work. It is immensely frustrating that some parts of the United Kingdom will receive funding for this, yet children in the majority of England are not being fed due to the Government’s political choice; a choice that we proved the majority of people in York don’t support."
Jared Brading, Executive Headteacher, Federation of Sacred Heart & St Mary’s RC Primary Schools in Battersea, said: "As we prepare to return to school, we look forward with eager anticipation to a year when all primary children in London will receive a Free School Meal.
"The expected increase in take up gives us the opportunity to work with the provider to truly enhance the food service and experience, placing food with educational achievement at the heart of school.
"However, we must not forget their siblings in secondary schools and cousins in the rest of the country who cannot enjoy the same provision owing to disparities in funding and policy. It’s time for school food for all."
Matthew Knight, Catering Manager at Hillstone Primary School in Birmingham, said: "I am heartened to hear that the London mayor has looked at all the evidence and taken into account the current situation for millions of families and decided to provide a school meal to all primary school children in London.
"This now has to be a priority for all the country – we need it especially here in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands. Surely it is a moral obligation to feed our children who are our future?
"The West Midlands and Birmingham in particular have an extremely high proportion of families living in poverty. Free School Meals would directly address this inequality.
"The evidence is there for all to see the dramatic and positive impact Free School Meals for all would have. It’s time our political leaders stepped up and showed the moral courage to feed our children."
NOTES TO EDITORS
Pandora Haydon on 07789 712608 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The research was commissioned by the School Food Review Working Group and conducted by Public First. 3,011 members of the public across England were surveyed from 27th June-4th July 2023. The results are weighted by interlocking age & gender, region and social grade to Nationally Representative Proportions.
Polling and data visualisation available here.
AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW
Anna Taylor - Executive Director, The Food Foundation
Stephanie Slater - Founder and Chief Executive, School Food Matters
Jared Branding - Head, St Mary’s School Battersea in Wandsworth (London; newly eligible for FSM)
John Draper - Head, Swaythling Primary in Southampton (no national FSM provision; leads local efforts to provide meals for students)
The Food Foundation Podcast
For more in-depth analysis and lived experience listen to our podcast
About Feed the Future campaign
Last year, a new campaign - Feed the Future - was launched to urgently address the issues of food insecurity for families and to tap into the economic growth opportunity.
The campaign is led by a coalition of organisations including The Food Foundation, Impact on Urban Health, Bite Back 2030, School Food Matters, CPAG, Chefs in Schools, the National Education Union (NEU), Save the Children, Children’s Society, Jamie Oliver Ltd and Sustain. The coalition calling on both the Conservative and Labour parties to commit to nationally expanding the eligibility to all children
About the School Food Review Group
The School Food Review Working Group is a coalition of 30 organisations spanning charities, educational organisations, catering companies, unions and academics, committed to working together to improve children’s health by reforming the school food system.
About Impact on Urban Health
Impact on Urban Health is an independent urban health foundation. Working in partnership with others, it takes a place-based approach to tackling urban health issues in the London Boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark, sharing what it learns with other cities around the world.
Impact on Urban Health takes a programmatic approach, focusing on a small range of big issues. It aims to tackle the inequality that exists for children and families in accessing nutritious diets, by making healthier food options accessible and affordable to all families in the places where they live and spend their time.
About Public First
Public First is a policy, research, public opinion and strategy consultancy. It works with global companies, charities, governments, startups, institutions and foundations around the world to tackle major public policy and strategic challenges. Its work is rooted in an understanding of real people in real communities by exploring public opinion and attitudes across the globe and linking that to effective, politically credible public policy. Public First is a company partner of the Market Research Society and members of the British Polling Council.
About the Food Foundation
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.
Registered Charity Number 1187611.