Free School meals

Free school meals

The shocking extent of food poverty in the UK is a damning indictment of 13 years of Conservative government. With the cost of living continuing to soar, ever more parents are struggling to afford to feed themselves and their children. Free school meals ensure children from families on the lowest incomes are assured a nutritious warm meal, however the income threshold for eligibility is often so low that thousands of children living in poverty do not qualify. To ensure all children have a fair start in life, the Green Party is calling on the government to extend the offer of free school meals to all children in primary and secondary schools. This would bring a raft of benefits for children and their parents, and would be an important step towards a healthier, happier and fairer society.

Food poverty in the UK

  • ‘Choosing between heating or eating’ has become a common refrain over the past year, but sadly it sums up the experience of the cost of living crisis for an increasing number of families.
  • The Food Foundation reports that the extent of child food insecurity doubled over the course of 2022. A survey conducted in January 2023 found that 21.6% of households with children had directly experienced food insecurity in the past month, affecting an estimated 3.7 million children - this is nearly double the rate reported in January 2022.
  • Unsurprisingly, families on lower incomes are worst affected: the Food Foundation reported in September that 54% of households that receive Universal Credit had experienced food insecurity in the past month.
  • Food insecurity impacts children’s physical and mental health, attention and attainment in school and adds an additional mental burden of worry to parents already experiencing the financial strain of the cost of living crisis.
  • Free school meals are one way to ensure that children receive warm nutritious food and relieve that burden from families. However, access to free school meals is highly dependent on where you live. Eligibility is particularly restrictive in England, where only children from families earning under £7,400 (after tax, not including benefits) can receive free school meals. Such a low income threshold means that approximately 800,000 children living in poverty in England do not qualify for free school meals.
  • This demonstrates a shameful failure to protect children and families by the Conservatives - a party whose deputy chair Lee Anderson claimed that people who use food banks “cannot budget”...

Free school meals for all children

  • According to a recent poll, there is overwhelming support for extending free school meals. 80% of the public in England now believe that all children in households that receive Universal Credit should be eligible for free school meals.
  • That adds further pressure on the government to extend eligibility. Wales is already setting an example, with universal free school meals currently being rolled out in primary schools in the country. London Mayor Sadiq Khan also recently announced one-off funding for free school meals for all primary school children in London for the 2023-24 academic year.
  • The Green Party wants the government to go even further and provide free school meals to all children in primary and secondary education.
  • This measure would help to ensure that all children get a fair and healthy start in life, and relieve pressure on families in the midst of the cost of living crisis.
  • On top of the direct benefits to children and families - including better physical and mental health, improved attention and attainment - universal free school meals would have an important positive impact for the school community and society as a whole.
  • Removing eligibility criteria would end any stigma attached to free school meals and create a more cohesive school community; similarly, in terms of children’s health, spiralling food costs and the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor areas, policies like free school meals for all are an important step towards the healthier, happier and fairer society that Greens want to see.


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