SFM research reveals schools are taking drastic measures to support increasing numbers of hungry children

23 May 2024
Current government policies and low-income thresholds exclude one million children living in food-insecure households from vital free school meals.

In England, families are only eligible for free school meals (FSMs) if their yearly household income is under £7,400. Anyone making over this amount is unable to access FSMs, even if their family qualifies for universal credit. This policy leaves nearly one million children living in poverty ineligible for a free meal at school. Our recent polling shows that demand for increased support measures has increased significantly since 2023, with schools stepping in to provide food banks, write off school meal debt, and offer food parcels to students.  

In London, the Mayor recently announced a free school meal policy that gives access to FSMs to all primary school students for the next four years. This is a great step towards ensuring all children receive a hot, healthy meal during their time at school, but it’s not fair that only London students benefit from this policy. Every child, no matter their age or post code, should be able to access a hot, healthy meal during their time at school.  

Schools across England are using their own resources to ensure that all children can access a meal during their school day and to support families as the cost of living rises. We spoke to head teachers, school staff, and community members across England to learn more about just how far they have had to go to make sure no child goes hungry at their schools.  

At Swaythling Primary School in Southampton, school staff had to launch a low-cost after-school childcare programme to fund the provision of free school meals for all children from families receiving universal credit.    

Mandeville Primary School, located in the heart of East London in a high deprivation area, has also taken extreme measures to ensure no children goes hungry at school. It reconfigured its budget to expand FSMs to all children. 

Alder Tree Primary School in Leeds is one of many schools funding its own food bank to support students, staff, and families. The school started the food bank during COVID-19 and decided to continue running it once schools reopened due to the high need in the area.   

Schools have also relied on external support from charities like One Can Trust in Buckinghamshire, which has funded school meals for local students who are ineligible for FSMs. 

Stephanie Slater, Founder and Chief Executive at School Food Matters, said:

“The news that cash-strapped schools across England are dipping into their budgets to feed hungry children is shocking. Schools cannot continue to plug gaps in provision with these drastic measures. The government must expand free school meals so that every child has the good nutrition they need to thrive.” 

We’re calling on the government to step up to provide support for schools, students and families with universal FSMs. You can join us by writing to your MP and asking them to do the same.  

To learn more about the fight to expand access to free school meals, join our mailing list and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.  

Read more about our recent polling here.