Budget: school food snubbed, household support fund subbed

6 March 2024
In his spring Budget announcement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer failed to announce any changes to support school food, but he did extend the Household Support Fund as we requested.

Today, we were disappointed that the government has declined yet another opportunity to support children with good food. Instead, Jeremy Hunt decided to announce a cut to National Insurance for workers and freezes on alcohol and fuel duties.

More positively, we were pleased to hear the Household Support Fund, which was due to expire this month, will be extended for six months. This follows a letter, which we joined 120 organisations in signing, calling on the Chancellor to extend the scheme. While the extension is welcome, the government must work on a permanent solution to support families with the rising costs of living, particularly during the school holidays when free school meals are not provided.

School Food Matters had made a submission to the government with recommendations to invest in children’s access to and education about food. We called for funding to be released by the Treasury to better establish food education, including the reintroduction of Food A-Level, and to invest in the next generation’s health and development with delicious and nutritious school meals for all. It is a shame that no efforts were made to bolster or improve school food.

Investing in school food can deliver returns that ought to excite anybody, especially in the Treasury. Through analysis commissioned by the School Food Review and Impact on Urban Health, PwC calculated that every £1 spent on quality school meals for all would return £1.71 for the economy. If the government stopped dividing children up for food, and removed means testing, it could generate around £100 billion for our economy over the next 20 years. The policy could pay for itself within two parliaments.

On a local level, investing in higher quality food provision in an area’s schools has been found to generate a 3:1 return on investment in social, environmental and economic value for the local economy; mostly in new, local jobs. Where universal provision has been implemented, staff have seen improved investment in training and conditions, and reported higher morale.

School food is a crucial part of our economy with the potential to pay huge dividends. It employs more staff than the Royal Navy and buys more food than any other part of the public sector. Furthermore, given over one in every seven workers can be found in the agri-food sector, surely we want our future food workforce to be educated in the field? We want to see a government have the ambition to invest in the next generation by unlocking the superpowers of school food, in both the canteen and the classroom.