Voters in key seats demand Government extends Free School Meals as child food poverty doubles

Child poverty

Voters in key seats demand Government extends Free School Meals nationally as child food poverty doubles in a year

New data released today from The Food Foundation shows the number of households where children are not getting enough nutritious food has nearly doubled in the past year.

In January 2023, 21.6% of households with children reported that their children had directly experienced food insecurity in the past month, affecting an estimated 3.7 million children. This is compared with 11.6% in January 2022. 

These findings come alongside the first national modelling of support for Free School Meals expansion across England’s parliamentary constituencies, which shows overwhelming support for Government action. 

Detailed polling, published today by The Food Foundation, shows overwhelming support for expansion of access to Free School Meals (FSM), as families suffer the worst cost of living crisis for generations. 

The data from a national sample of 8,000 respondents, show eight out of ten people in England (80%) now support the Government providing Free School Meals for children in households receiving Universal Credit.

When the public were surveyed in October 2022, there was 72% support for expansion of Free School Meals. Support for the policy is high in a raft of key marginal seats at risk of being lost by the Conservatives in the next election, and in constituencies held by the Prime Minister and his most senior cabinet ministers. 

Expanding Free School Meals nationwide, which has been the basis of the Feed the Future campaign, has been made even more urgent following the Labour Mayor of London's announcement last week that he will be funding Free School Meals for all primary schoolchildren in the capital as a one-year emergency measure from September 2023.5  

The London initiative puts further pressure on national Government to honour its levelling up commitment, given the postcode lottery of access to Free School Meals between London and the rest of England where the eligibility annual household income threshold remains at £7,400 (after tax, excluding benefits).

England also lags far behind the devolved nations. Scotland and Wales are rolling out Universal Free School Meals in primary schools, and in Northern Ireland the income threshold is double that of England (£14,000).  

Key findings:

  • Strong support for Free School Meal expansion in constituencies represented by Rishi Sunak, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab, Steve Baker and Matt Vickers, where around 80% of voters say they want to see more children helped. 
  • Similar calls for policy change in areas held by Jacob Rees-Mogg (82% support), Penny Mordaunt (80% support), and numerous Conservative 'red wall' seats, some held by MPs with wafer-thin majorities.
  • New You Gov* data showed 21.6% of households with children reported that their children had directly experienced food insecurity (see note below for definition) in January 2023, compared to 11.6% in January 2022.

Detailed analysis:

Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister
Richmond constituency North Yorkshire
Local voter support for FSM: 76%
Local children living in poverty: 20%

Jeremy Hunt
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Southwest Surrey
Local voter support for FSM: 82%
Local children living in poverty: 15%

Matt Vickers
Vice-chair Conservative Party
Stockton South
Local voter support for FSM: 81%
Local children living in poverty: 32%  

Steve Baker
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Local voter support for FSM: 82%
Local children living in poverty: 31%

Dominic Raab
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
Esher & Walton
Local voter support for FSM: 82%
Local children living in poverty: 14%

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, said: "We have been tracking these trends for some time and the levels of food insecurity among children continue to be terribly concerning, and point to big holes in the Government’s safety net.

"These latest findings now show the public is overwhelmingly in favour of greater Government support for the millions of families suffering the worst effects of the cost of living crisis.

"By extending Free School Meals to more children in England in the next budget, the Government could deliver a policy change that is popular with voters, targeted and timely, and truly delivers on levelling up." 



For further comment from Anna Taylor or The Food Foundation’s local Young Food Ambassadors, please contact Lois Rogers on 0203 576 1045 or email

For expert education perspective please contact Dr Nick Capstick, chair of the School Food Review working group on 07508135799 or email

See our Food Insecurity Tracker here

YouGov survey methodology

We asked the following questions to explore how many children were directly affected by food insecurity (i.e. experiencing hunger, having their nutrition and health compromised) due to living in households with food insecurity. If they answered yes to any of these four questions, they are classified as food insecure.  

  1. We have relied on only a few kinds of low-cost food to feed the child(ren) because we have run out of food and have been unable to get more 
  2. The child(ren) have not had balanced meals because we have run out of food and have been unable to get more 
  3. The child(ren) have not eaten enough because we have run out of food and have been unable to get more 
  4. The child(ren) have skipped meals because we have run out of food and have been unable to get more? 

We asked them if they had experienced this in a) the last month and b) the last 6 months. The questions are based on the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Security Survey module. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 10,814 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 31st January and 3rd February 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults 18+. The figures presented from the online survey have been analysed independently by The Food Foundation and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Comparison to older figures is from a series of previous surveys conducted with YouGov commissioned by the Food Foundation. Population calculations made by the Food Foundation using 2021 mid-year population estimates (reference)

Focaldata MRP survey

Focaldata specialises in mapping opinion poll data onto smaller geographic areas, using a technique known as MRP, or Multilevel Regression with Post-stratification. This study used data collected from 8,011 respondents between 27th and 30th January 2023 using Focaldata's online platform, which plugs into a global network of panels and uses machine learning to automatically detect and screen out inconsistent and disengaged respondents. While the sample is not large enough to treat the data as separate constituency polls, we can use MRP to look for patterns in responses across constituencies that have similar characteristics, and then work out the implications of those patterns for each constituency.  For further information contact: 

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. 

Twitter: @Food_Foundation
Hashtags: #FreeSchoolMeals#FSM#FeedtheFuture 

About Feed the Future
Feed the Future is a campaign led by a coalition of organisations including The Food Foundation, Bite Back 2030, School Food Matters, Child Poverty Action Group, Impact on Urban Health, Chefs in Schools, Jamie Oliver Ltd and Sustain. This coalition is making the case that Free School Meals should be extended to more children.

Please write to your MP asking for support for expansion of access to free school meals: 

Listen here to Food Foundation podcasts on all aspects of our work:

With thanks to our funders:

Impact on Urban Health
Impact on Urban Health is a part of Guy’s & St Thomas’ Foundation, and is committed to achieving health equity by helping urban areas become healthier places for everyone to live. Visit: 

The Nuffield Foundation
The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. It also funds student programmes that provide opportunities for young people to develop skills in quantitative and scientific methods. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the Ada Lovelace Institute and the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit 

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