Parents call on government to extend free school meals

20 February 2024
The National Education Union has found 88% of primary school parents outside of London support free school meals for all.

The poll, carried out by Survation on behalf of the National Education Union (NEU), surveyed primary school parents and children both inside and outside of London. It found a clear difference on either side of the M25, with 54% of those outside of the capital having to cut back on their food shop, compared to 41% in London. It seems investing in school food for all might make a real difference to people’s lives.

All children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 in England are entitled to a free school meal. Since September 2023, the Mayor of London has funded free school meals for all children attending state primary schools in the capital. Last month, he announced this provision will continue for at least another year, until summer 2025. Meanwhile, children beyond Year 2 in the rest of England are means tested for this entitlement, with any family earning over £7,400 per year after benefits considered too wealthy to qualify.

The pandemic and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis have illuminated and exacerbated the struggles faced by families in trying to make ends meet. Four in ten children knew someone at school who does not have enough to eat, and three in ten reported sharing food at least twice a month with hungry schoolmates. Around a third of parents reported cutting down on purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables, and fewer than one in 20 parents whose children have packed lunches reported including vegetables in them.

The research found 88% of parents outside of London would support the UK Government following its neighbours in Scotland, Wales and London, by ending means testing for food and funding school lunches for all primary pupils. This key ask of the NEU's No Child Left Behind campaign would provide a key nutritional safety net for all children, no matter where they grow up.

There are many returns on an investment in great school food, which parents in London are now feeling. Around two-thirds report time pressures having eased since the introduction of school meals for all primary pupils. Of them, 41% have been able to take up more work, and 63% are spending more time with their families. Half of the children in London reported the rollout meant their concentration had improved.

“I feel sad that some of my friends might not be able to eat lunch with me because of money.”

  • Child respondent to survey

We agree with parents; the government in Westminster should invest in our nation’s young people with delicious and nutritious school food for all, and stop dividing up children by postcode or birthdate.