Expand free school meals across England demands union as poll reveals food cost struggles

Government "tone deaf" to the cost-of-living stresses affecting families

Free school meals England primary schools

Campaigners are urging the government to extend free school meals in primary schools across England as a poll by the National Education Union (NEU) revealed the dire food cost struggles felt by families across the country. 

The majority of parents want free school meals in primary schools across England, the poll of parents and children found, as those outside of London struggle more to feed their families. 

Four in ten children know of someone at school who sometimes doesn’t have enough to eat, while one in three parents or carers struggling with food costs reported having less food or less healthy food for their children’s lunchboxes. 

It has been a year since the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced the extension of free school meals for all London state primary schools, and the positive effects have been reported already, with 78% of London respondents saying their family budgets have easing somewhat or significantly due to free school meals. 

Parents are telling Rishi Sunak that now is the time to extend the scheme across England so the benefits can be felt by all children and to ease continued cost-of-living pressures.

NEU general secretary Daniel Kebede said the government and the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt must “do the right thing” and declare free school meals in every primary school in England for the Spring Budget. 

“It is simply tone deaf for this Government to claim that the cost-of-living crisis is easing when so many parents of all incomes are cutting back on food,” said Kebede.

“The Chancellor has three weeks to decide if he is serious about young people.” 

Currently free school meals are provided in England up until Year 3, and from then only children from households claiming certain benefits or from a certain household income qualify for free school meals.

In London free school meals have been rolled out to all year groups in state primary schools, with over half of London parents saying the scheme had improved the variety of their child’s diet. 

Outside of London, 88% of parents or carers support the UK Government extending the scheme in England, the Survation poll for the NEU found, as campaigners and experts emphasise its need.

Teacher Ann-Marie Ferrigan in Liverpool said: “The last few years I’ve seen an incredibly worrying rise in difficulty affording food, the worst I’ve seen in my career as a teacher.

“It is so vital that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak listens to the voices of parents and children and extends Free School Meals so that every primary school child in England can benefit.”

Celebrities including Olivia Colman, Ed Sheeran and Kate Winslet have supported the NEU’s No Child Left Behind Campaign to end child poverty in the UK, which stands at 4.2 million children currently in poverty.

(Image credit: Cheshire East Council / Creative Commons)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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