Policy commentary

New data: Labour and Conservative voters overwhelmingly back giving Free School Meals to more children

New research shows Labour and Conservative voter support for expanding Free School Meals

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, a coalition of 30 organisations from across the school food system including The Food Foundation. This week, all primary school children in London become eligible for Free School Meals for one year as part of a new intervention by the London Mayor. However, this widens the regional inequalities across the country making national expansion an even greater imperative.

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. 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, as well as the results of this polling suggest supporting Free School Meal expansion could help swing significant support for Labour or cost the Tories votes from their previous voters.

#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.

Universal Free School Meals rollout in London

The new research comes as universal primary Free School Meals are rolled out across London for a year-long pilot. As of this week, all primary school children in London are now eligible for free school meals for this academic year, meaning 287,000 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.  

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. 

London is not the only area of the UK going further to support children to access Free School Meals. See the map below for other pioneering action from local authorites across England and the devolved nations.

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