State of the Nations

4 February 2021
Pre-pandemic research by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) revealed two in five UK children living below the poverty line are not entitled to free school meals (FSM). Here we look at how eligibility varies across the devolved nations.

Last week Plaid Cymru challenged the Welsh Government following a 2020 review by the CPAG that recommends extending the eligibility for FSM. The review finds that of the 129,000 children in Wales living below the poverty line, over 70,000 do not qualify for FSM.

Currently in Wales, as in England, a child is entitled to FSM if their family receives Universal Credit and has a net income below £7,400 (not including benefits). CPAG recommends that the Welsh Government provide FSM for all families who receive Universal Credit, as well as for those who have no recourse to public funds.

On top of this, the review recommends that universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) are provided in line with England and Scotland. However, unlike the other nations, in Wales all primary school children are entitled to a free breakfast.

In Scotland, 45,000 children below the poverty line are not eligible for FSM. Both the SNP and Scottish Conservatives have pledged to fund free breakfasts and lunches for all primary pupils if they are elected in May. The Scottish Greens and Scottish Labour have also committed to extending free school meals.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, a further 20,000 children below the poverty line are not eligible for FSM. While there is no UIFSM policy, the income cap for eligibility is a more generous £14,000. The Northern Ireland Executive has also agreed to provide funding for FSM during all school holidays until Easter 2022. 

The coronavirus pandemic has brought to light the significant gaps in school food provision. CPAG’s recommendations reflect the call for a review made by School Food Matters, Marcus Rashford and many others in our as yet unanswered letter to Boris Johnson.