There will be more hungry children – will there be more food?

31 August 2022
As a new term begins amidst an escalating cost-of-living crisis, the calls for expanding free school meals increase.

The first week back after the summer break sees new arrivals in the corridors of schools and in the corridors of power. Both settings must be acutely aware of the worsening cost-of-living crisis, set to intensify as we head into autumn. Both settings must understand doing nothing is not an option.

School leaders have identified hungry children as a major concern. Speaking to The Guardian, Paul Gosling, President of the National Association of Head Teachers, recalls children gathering around a school radiator every morning last winter due to a lack of heating at home. He warns that this term ‘we will have far more children turning up to school hungry’ and school leaders are worrying how to afford to keep the lights on at school, while helping families get through the winter.

Faced with insufficient budgets, the situation for schools has been described as ‘heartbreaking’. This week, a dinner lady told Joe Politics ‘I spend as much time taking food away from children as I do serving it… I’m just dreading going back to work… I didn’t take the job on to starve children.’

Jonny Uttley, CEO of the Education Alliance academy trust, has also stated in The Guardian his commitment to no child going hungry. Mr Uttley points out that he was planning measures to assist families ‘even before the horrific energy cap rises’. He says that this issue now requires a ‘radical… level of thinking’ and urges the government to provide free school meals for all.

Economics professor at Sheffield University, Richard Murphy, has added his voice to the call for universally provided school food. Professor Murphy and Mr Uttley join a chorus that has been growing for years, and includes many educational professionals such as those who wrote to the government in May.

School Food Matters backs these calls. The first step must be an immediate extension of free school meals to all children from families in receipt of universal credit (or equivalent benefits). This will go some way to helping the one in three children living in poverty who do not qualify for a free school meal.

The government must then work towards the universal provision of school food, as is supported by the public, and is being rolled out in Wales and Scotland. This will pump more money into schools and improve economies of scale, while providing a nutritional safety net for young people. Accompanying this must be sufficient resources for schools and caterers to deliver healthy, tasty school meals.

With a new school year and a new prime minister, why not a new policy to support our children? Now we have heard from the offices of headteachers, we await to hear from the Offices of State.