CPAG, Children North East and the North East Child Poverty Commission have published a briefing on free school meals (FSM) in the North East. The Cost of Missing Lunchtime report shows that one in four children in the North East of England living below the poverty line are not eligible for free school meals and, of those who are, 11% do not take up the offer of a hot lunch.
The report shows that extending FSM entitlement to the 83,000 children in families in the North East receiving universal credit would cost £38.1 million, an investment worth making when a nutritious school meal can improve children’s attainment and when free school meals can address health inequalities.
The briefing makes three key recommendations, for government, local authorities and schools:
- The government must restore the previous free school meals eligibility threshold (in place prior to April 2018) which included all families in receipt of universal credit. This should also be extended to all those on equivalent benefits.
- Local authorities should review their free school meal policies, processes and practices to ensure they are maximising the number of families taking up their free school meal entitlement.
- Schools should work to identify and address any existing policies or practices that either prevent pupils taking up their free school meal entitlement or further disadvantage them.
We wholeheartedly support these recommendations; this is why we are asking the government to undertake a review of school food policies across England.