Thousands missing out on school lunch due to admin

17 February 2023
The Local Government Association is calling for pupils to be automatically enrolled for free school meals, to prevent anybody missing out.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has calculated that 215,000 pupils who are eligible for a free school meal (FSM) have not accessed the offer. As well as children missing out on the nutritional safety net that school food is, this provision, worth nearly £500 per child, is money families could well do with during the worsening cost of living crisis.

The process of signing up for FSM is riddled with barriers. Families can face obstacles of language, technology and stigma in trying to access the support. The government knows who is in receipt of benefits and knows how much people earn. It is therefore a lack of will from the government that is putting the onus on families to apply for FSM.

“It cannot be right to let paperwork stand between a child and a hot meal.”

  • Henry Dimbleby, National Food Strategy

These 215,000 children join the 800,000 who are living in poverty but are still not eligible, because of the government’s draconian eligibility criteria. Since 2018, to be eligible for a free school meal a child’s family has to be in receipt of universal credit and cannot have a total household income of over £7,400 in a year.

Not only would auto-enrolment support children with food, but it would also help to better fund schools. FSM eligibility unlocks pupil premium funding for schools, which can be spent on supporting the most disadvantaged children and narrowing inequalities. Tens of millions of pounds for schools is being unclaimed.

We fully support the LGA’s call on the government to automatically enrol all children who are eligible for FSM, and to extend FSM to more children. In the very least, the government should provide FSM for all those in receipt of universal credit. This would be a sensible first step towards securing the next generation’s health by removing means testing from food and investing in school meals for all.