13 September 2023
Young people call on MPs to extend Free School Meals as 900,000 children in poverty in England miss out
Young people call on politicians in Westminster to extend Free School Meals as 900,000 children living in poverty in England miss out
- Young people and Feed the Future campaigners took to Westminster to appeal to MPs, with an iconic political campaign ‘reimagined’ to raise awareness of the scale of the issue as part of the Feed the Future campaign.
- While children in state-funded primary schools in London are eligible for a Free School Meal from this September, for one year, the campaign is highlighting that children across the rest of England are missing out in the postcode lottery.
- 900,000(1) children living in poverty in England are missing out on national eligibility for Free School Meals due to the strict threshold set by government – a ‘queue’ of children which in reality would stretch 342 miles, more than the distance from London to Edinburgh.
- New data on public opinion also shows that extending Free School Meal provision is an effective lifeline to support families during the cost-of-living crisis and that 70% of people in England including Labour and Conservative voters think that extending provision is a good use of Government money(2).
Young people, supported by #FeedtheFuture campaigners are calling on Westminster to give more children access to Free School Meals as data shows that over 900,000 children living in poverty are currently missing out on support from national government.
The Food Foundation’s Young Food Ambassadors took their campaign to Westminster [earlier today/yesterday], reworking one of the most iconic political slogans in history to highlight the vast number of children missing out and target politicians as they begin to plan their election manifesto commitments.
The billboard used in their campaign represents the ‘queue’ of 900,000 children in poverty being denied Free School Meals – if this were a real queue of children, it would stretch 342 miles equating to the distance from London to Edinburgh. [Insert reference to additional campaigns reimagined once confirmed]
Whilst all London primary school children are now eligible for a Free School Meal as of this September for one year through emergency funding provided by the London Mayor Sadiq Khan(3), a move welcomed by young people and campaigners, this latest campaign warns that a lack of action at a national level is unfair and will only serve to exacerbate regional inequalities, with schoolchildren in other areas not having access to the same benefits and life chances.
Children have already faced an uncertain return to school after the summer break, with the issue of school closures due to the RAAC concrete issue overshadowing the beginning of a new school year for thousands.
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. This is despite inflation reaching an all-time high in the last 12 months and the most deprived families continuing to feel the impact of the cost-of-living crisis most acutely.
The campaign calls on politicians from both sides 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. With election manifestos being written in the coming weeks and months, the young people’s message is for Free School Meals not to be forgotten.
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.
Zoe McIntyre, Advocacy Manager on Children’s Food, The Food Foundation said: "We welcome the Mayor of London’s roll out of Free School Meals to primary school children in London for the next year as a measure to help families cope with the soaring cost of living.
"However, we mustn’t forget the hundreds of thousands of children outside the capital who are living below the poverty line but don’t qualify.
"The Food Foundation’s Young Food Ambassadors have joined the #FeedtheFuture campaign to ask MPs for an end to the unjust postcode lottery and are calling on both the Conservative and Labour parties to commit to nationally expanding the eligibility to all children as a priority for the next election."
Dev Sharma, Youth MP and Food Foundation Young Ambassador, 18 and from Leicester, says "Growing up, my journey in advocating for food justice has been deeply personal, drawing from experiences in school and the stories of my peers.
"It's heartening to see progress in London, but our mission isn't complete. We must not leave behind the children living in poverty who are still waiting for a Free School Meal. Every child, no matter their postcode, deserves access to nutritious food."
There has been support from campaigners, chefs, teachers, caterers and health professionals on this issue.
Celebrity Chef Melissa Hemsley said: “I recently visited a London primary school a few days into the rollout of Free School Meals and spoke to teachers, catering teams and support staff who told me how pleased they were that no children would be left without and alienated this academic year.
"I strongly hope and call on government to roll this out to the 900,000 young people who deserve to be nourished and included at school lunchtimes."
Celebrity Chef and Campaigner Tom Kerridge said: "I’m saddened that in this country, in 2023 myself and hundreds, if not thousands, of others are calling on the Government to feed our children at school.
"As a nation we need to look at our moral compass and make decisions that will hugely benefit future generations, it shouldn’t be a case of where you live dictating if you get a hot meal that day.
"The facts presented are difficult to swallow and should be a massive wake up call to those in power to make changes."
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.
Recognising these benefits and the need to remove the stigma around Free School Meals, 71% of voters think that the income threshold to qualify for Free School Meals is too low or should not exist at all(4).
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. If the policy was expanded to all children from households on Universal Credit, for every £1 invested, £1.38 would be returned(5).
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
Zoe McIntyre, Advocacy Manager, Children's Right2Food, The Food Foundation.
The Food Foundation Young Ambassadors are available for interview on request.
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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.
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 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.