Too many children are missing out on free school meals

8 November 2021
It’s time for Government to address problems of child food poverty and make free school meals available to every child that needs one.

This issue is not going away and is receiving increasing attention from national press, including the BBC in its recent article ‘Parents cry because they can’t provide food’.

The article tells the story of one man in Greater Manchester who is working to keep local children from going hungry. He has started a food bank which provides food to primary schools.

The BBC goes on to talk with a headteacher at one of these schools, who firmly believes the eligibility threshold for free school meals (FSM) must be increased. More than one in five (1.74 million) pupils in England were eligible for FSM in January 2021. And yet research by The Food Foundation shows 2.5 million children live in households that had difficulties accessing enough food this year. The current threshold to be eligible for FSM is a household income below £7,400 before benefits.

The National Food Strategy (NFS) – which the Government is currently considering its response to – makes clear in its recommendations that FSM should be extended to more children. The NFS suggests a threshold of £20,000, which will guarantee an additional one million children can receive a nutritious, hot meal every school day.

We implore the Government to undertake a comprehensive review of school food and expand the eligibility criteria to allow many more children to access FSM, starting with those who are poorest.

Breakfast Boxes Are Back

During our award-winning Breakfast Boxes programme last winter, we saw at least one in four children receiving support from us could not access FSM. We welcome the Government’s commitment to continuing the Holiday Activities and Food Programme, but this does not go far enough to ensure all children can access sufficient nutritious food.

As we know pressure is increasing on families heading into the winter months, School Food Matters is reviving its Breakfast Boxes programme during the Christmas holidays. This time, the programme is running in Tower Hamlets, for children who are identified as needing support but are ineligible for FSM.

In this BBC News item, you can hear from foodbank workers and schools about the extent of the issue.