Charities call on government to urgently increase number of free school meals

Feed the Future: Organisations partnering with The Independent’s Feed the Future campaign call for meals to be extended to all children in poverty

David Cohen
Campaigns Editor
Wednesday 12 October 2022 10:50 BST
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’Children should be given the support they need to do well when they need it most’ (Ben Birchall/PA)
’Children should be given the support they need to do well when they need it most’ (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Wire)

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Charity bosses have called on the government to act “urgently” to extend free school meals as part of the Feed the Future campaign with The Independent.

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“We have to decide as a nation that it is wrong to make hungry children forage for food and that extending free school meals to all children in poverty is the right thing to do because one thing we know – hungry children cannot learn,” said Stephanie Slater, chief executive of School Food Matters, in backing the Feed the Future campaign calling for the prime minister to extend free school meals to all pupils in England whose parents are in receipt of universal credit.

As the cost of living crisis deepens, chief executives from a number of the organisations who have signed up to our campaign have spoken out about the need to help the 800,000 children in England who live in poverty but miss out on free school meals because their parents earn above the threshold of £7,400 a year.

Naomi Duncan, chief executive of Chefs in Schools, said: “Our chefs are seeing children come into school with no money and no food, who don’t meet the criteria for free school meals and yet are hungry and don’t know who to ask. We are calling for free school meal entitlement in England to be urgently extended. It’s unsustainable.

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“For 120 years, UK governments have recognised that hungry children cannot learn and together we have built a school lunch system that is admired around the world. We have evidence that a good school meal is associated with better attendance, behaviour, learning and health.

“Extending free school meal entitlement now would be a targeted, effective, cost of living support measure and a meaningful investment in children, who are this country's future.”

Barbara Crowther, national coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign for Sustain, said: “Tragically we are letting children down by perpetuating the draconian means-testing regime on school food. Let’s start by immediately expanding access to all children in poverty. We’re investing in the country’s future prosperity by investing in children.”

Christina Adane, spokesperson for Bite Back 2030, said: “The government has an opportunity to make the system fairer. Children should be given the support they need to do well when they need it most.”

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