Two Cities

A campaign to highlight the disparity in access to school meals, focusing on two cities in England: Liverpool and London

Schools across England are regularly paying to feed hungry pupils, according to our polling of 10,000 teachers. The findings come amid growing calls for the government to expand access to free school meals. 

Schools have been drawing on their already over-stretched budgets and staff to ensure no child goes hungry, with some also setting up food banks and pantries to support vulnerable families. Nearly one million school children from low-income backgrounds are not eligible for free school meals. This is because the eligibility criteria is so restrictive: a child’s family must be in receipt of universal credit and have a total household income of less than £7,400 in a year to qualify

Almost 3.5 million children also live in food insecure households. Schools see the consequences of this every day: large numbers of children are coming to school hungry.  

At School Food Matters we believe that we can and should do better.  

Every child deserves the quality nutrition they need to thrive at school. There are extensive benefits to providing quality school meals to pupils, including improvements to children's education, health, equity, and well-being. A 2022 cost-benefit analysis commissioned by Impact on Urban Health revealed that for every £1 invested in school food for all children, £1.71 would be returned. When wider benefits were considered, the investment would generate £99.5 billion for the economy over 20 years.  

Our findings 

Our new report highlights what teachers across the country are saying about the extent of pupil hunger at their schools, the impact it is having on children’s ability to learn, and the steps schools are taking to support hungry children. To collect this information, we surveyed 10,000 teachers across England through the polling tool Teacher Tapp. We found:

  • 38% of senior leaders said their school has been providing free school meals to pupils who are not eligible, with that number rising to half (51%) in the poorest areas.    
  • A quarter said their school has written off school meal debt this academic year, and 24% said they had opened a food bank to support struggling families.  
  • Four in 10 teachers said pupils in their class were regularly too hungry to learn, with the figure jumping to 63% in the most deprived areas.    

Alongside this research, we spoke to Headteachers, school staff, and community members across England to learn more about just how far they have had to go to make sure no child goes hungry at their schools. 

Schools across England are using their own resources to ensure that all children can access a nutritious meal during their school day and to support families as the cost of living rises. 

At Swaythling Primary School in Southampton, school staff had to launch a low-cost after-school childcare programme to fund the provision of free school meals for all children from families receiving universal credit.   

Mandeville Primary School, located in the heart of East London in a high deprivation area, has also taken extreme measures to ensure no children goes hungry at school. It reconfigured its budget to expand FSMs to all children, an investment of more than £10,000. 

Alder Tree Primary School in Leeds is one of many schools funding its own food bank to support students, staff, and families. The school started the food bank during COVID-19 and decided to continue running it once schools reopened due to the high need in the area.  

Schools have also relied on external support from charities like One Can Trust in Buckinghamshire, which has funded school meals for local students who are ineligible for FSMs. 

Stephanie Slater, Founder and Chief Executive at School Food Matters, said:   

The news that cash-strapped schools across England are dipping into their budgets to feed hungry children is shocking. Schools cannot continue to plug gaps in provision with these drastic measures. The government must expand free school meals so that every child has the good nutrition they need to thrive. We’re calling on the government to step up to provide support for schools, students and families with universal free school meals.

How you can help: 

We invite you to take action to ensure that all children, regardless of where they live, are able to access a free school meal. Here are a few ways you can get involved: 

Raise awareness  

  • Follow and reshare our social media posts on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Facebook (don't forget to add the hashtag #SchoolFoodMatters)  
  • Share our video highlighting the disparity in access to school meal between the two cities in England  
  • Share the news coverage about our report in The Mirror
  • Join our mailing list for more information on how you can get involved 
  • Read our full report here

Write to your MP

  • Click this link to send a letter to your local candidates: Take Action