New report on cost of learning during lockdown

18 March 2021
A new report from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) investigates the costs of learning while schools were closed. We look at its findings related to food.

CPAG’s The Cost of Learning in Lockdown report is based on UK-wide surveys and interviews, with an emphasis on engaging with communities living on low incomes. It builds on the research published by CPAG in June 2020 and work with schools and local authorities.

As we saw last year, CPAG found two in five children in poverty are not eligible for free school meals (FSM). This was unfortunately supported by the new research, with families reporting to be struggling but ineligible for FSM. Even some of those who were entitled to FSM reported that they had received no support during the holidays. Barriers to getting help included not being aware of or not being able to access support available.

Further issues came as many schools had to limit activities such as breakfast and after-school clubs. A third of children said their breakfast club had stopped running altogether. Parents told the researchers that this had an impact on their ability to work and on their finances.

Respondents also reported a preference for cash-first interventions, with three-quarters of families who received cash payments saying this worked well. By comparison, only 40% agreed that vouchers and food deliveries worked well for them.

The report makes a number of recommendations, which include:

  • Governments and local authorities must prioritise a ‘cash first’ approach to FSMs during any future periods of isolation, remote learning or holiday support.

  • Governments should urgently review the earnings threshold for free school meals eligibility to ensure that all low-income families receive the support they need.

  • Scotland has committed to providing all primary schoolchildren with a free meal each day. Other governments must take action to expand free school meals to more children.

  • Schools should provide the clear, regular and universal information and support to parents so that they understand how to access all the school food interventions that are available to them.