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Jamie Oliver calls for more free school meals help as two-thirds of voters support expansion

Chef Jamie Oliver calls on government to ‘put children’s health first’

Holly Bancroft
Social Affairs Correspondent
Monday 04 September 2023 00:02 BST
Drone footage shows Sheffield primary school built with dangerous concrete

Jamie Oliver is calling for more free school meals help as two-thirds of voters back the expansion of help to all children whose families receive universal credit – as campaigned for by The Independent.

The celebrity chef is among those asking the government to “put children’s health first” and widen the eligibility for free school meals. Under current rules, only children from households with an income below £7,400 – after tax and benefits – are eligible.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to roll out free primary school meals to all pupils in London in a year-long pilot after this newspaper campaigned to expand the help.

Now, new research, commissioned by the School Food Review Working Group, found that 68 per cent of voters are in favour of extending free school meals to all children whose families receive universal credit. Some 82 per cent of prospective Labour voters agree, as do 53 per cent of Conservative voters, the polling shows.

And 65 per cent of Labour voters and 18 per cent of Tory voters said they would be more likely to vote for Sir Keir Starmer’s party if they committed to the expansion, campaigners said.

The £7,400 income threshold for families has not been increased since 2018, despite rising food prices. This means that an estimated 900,000 schoolchildren living in poverty are not eligible, they added.

Responding to the polling, Jamie Oliver said it was “great to see that voters across all parties want to put child health first”.

He added: “We know that nourishing young minds with nutritious food is an investment in their future, [and] boosts our economy and our health. Sadiq Khan has recognised this by giving all primary school children a free school meal, and now we need politicians across all parties to put child health above politics and act now.”

Anna Taylor, executive director of charity The Food Foundation, said the polling was a “clear signal that the status quo is both unfair and damaging, and voters want it fixed”.

Matthew Knight, catering manager at Hillstone Primary School in Birmingham, said school meals should “be a priority for all the country”, adding: “We need it, especially here in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands.”

The £7,400 income threshold for families has not been increased since 2018, despite rising food prices (PA)

He added: “Surely it is a moral obligation to feed our children who are our future? The West Midlands and Birmingham in particular have an extremely high proportion of families living in poverty. Free school meals would directly address this inequality.”

Jared Brading, executive headteacher at Sacred Heart and St Mary’s RC primary schools in Battersea, southwest London, said they were excited for a year when all primary children in the capital would receive food. But she called on the government to “not forget their siblings in secondary schools and cousins in the rest of the country who cannot enjoy the same provision”.

A government spokesperson said: “Over a third of pupils in England now receive free school meals in education settings, compared with one in six in 2010, and we have extended eligibility several times to more groups of children than any other government over the past half-a-century. This includes introducing new eligibility criteria for families receiving universal credit, to ensure even more children were eligible for a free school meal.”

Polling was conducted by Public First of 3,011 members of the public across England. They were surveyed from 27 June to 4 July.

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