‘Hungry kids cannot learn’: Leon co-founder Henry Dimbleby backs free school meals campaign

Feed the Future: Henry Dimbleby joins calls for the government to give meals to all schoolchildren living in poverty

Tuesday 18 October 2022 18:52 BST
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Feed the Future campaign: School food banks

The co-founder of fast food chain Leon is backing The Independent’s campaign for all children in England living in poverty to receive free school meals.

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Henry Dimbleby, who authored the National Food Strategy, is supporting the Feed the Future campaign, which The Independent launched alongside the Food Foundation.

The campaign is calling on the government to increase the income threshold for households to be entitled to free school meals.

Backing the campaign in an article for The Independent, Mr Dimbleby revealed he spoke to a headteacher of a multi-academy trust who said that “many” children arrive at school unable to concentrate “because they think only of food”.

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He said that the headteacher, Dr Nick Capstick, told him that the situation is so bad that there are “children breaking down and crying because of hunger”.

Dr Capstick told him: “Just over half our pupils do not get free school meals but would be defined as living in poverty ... These children typically bring in a lunch box, but what’s inside is wholly inadequate.

“The impacts are deep. It’s hard to perform academically or do physical exercise when you are hungry.”

Mr Dimbleby, who founded the chain of 70 restaurants before they were bought last year by retailer EG Group, said that he has been calling on the government to change the income threshold for entitlement to free school meals since 2013.

Nearly 700,000 children in England have struggled with hunger because their families were not deemed poor enough to get free school meals, meaning they had household incomes of more than £7,400 a year before benefits, his ‘School Food’ plan reported.

Henry Dimbleby authored the National Food Strategy (Anthony Devlin/PA))

Now the situation is set to worsen amid the cost of living crisis that has seen food prices rise while wages fail to keep pace with inflation hovering at around 10 per cent – the highest since the 1970s.

Mr Dimbleby said raising the threshold is not only “moral” but would benefit the economic and social growth of the country.

If free school meals were extended to all families in receipt of universal credit, England would receive a return of about £1.38 on every £1 spent, he added referring to recent research by PwC.

Mr Dimbleby added: “Hungry children cannot learn and cannot thrive. It is unconscionable in 2022 that this situation has not yet been addressed.”

In Wales, all 72,000 primary school pupils are set to get free lunches by 2024 as part of a deal agreed between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Labour government. In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has committed to extending free school meals to all pupils in P6 and P7.

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