Feed the Future: England still lagging behind rest of UK

4 November 2022
England has the harshest criteria for accessing free school meals, and therefore the most children missing out.

New analysis from our friends Child Poverty Action Group shows that children in poverty in England are less likely to get a free school meal than anywhere else in the UK. We know that, in England, one in three children living in poverty are ineligible for a free school meal. In the other UK nations, this number is considerably better.

Of course, we should live in a society where every child is provided with a meal at school. In the very least, every child in poverty. But these new figures hammer home how stark the situation in England is. In Norther Ireland, 22% of children living in poverty are not eligible for a free school meal, in Wales 19% and in Scotland 16%. These figures take into account the rolling out of universal provision in Scotland and Wales.

The reason for this variation is the different thresholds for eligibility across the UK, which are described in the graphic below. England has the harshest of all the UK nations.

Graphic which describes the eligibility criteria for free school meals entitlement in each UK nation.

When asked whether England should follow Scotland and Wales with their progressive universal policies, 73% of the public agreed. We do too, which is why we are using our Feed the Future campaign to call on the government to extend free school meals to all children from families in receipt of universal credit, as an immediate first step towards providing school meals for all.