We’ve joined forces with Food Foundation, BiteBack2030, School Food Matters, Jamie Oliver Group, Sustain and 30+ other food organisations and charities to call on the Government to urgently expand eligibility for free school meal entitlement in England. Our Chief Executive, Naomi Duncan, explains why. 

For far too long the threshold for accessing free school meals in England has been far too low. It’s been nearly ten years since the School Food Plan called for the Government to review entitlement for free school meals, noting that hundreds of thousands of children were living in households where parents had £10 a day left to spend after paying rent. In 2022, the latest estimates suggest that more than 800,000 children are living in poverty, but are denied access to a free school meal. The vast majority of school leaders we speak to, say that the problem is getting worse.

It’s easy to forget, when we talk in such large numbers, that every one of those 800,000 + is a real child. Polling we commissioned, released today, and talking to the Headteachers and school chefs we work with across the country, brings up harrowing specific examples:

  • Children going to school pretending to have food in their lunch boxes
  • Children stealing lunch from their friends or the school kitchen
  • Some have only a slice of bread, or a single yogurt,  to eat

And as the week of the month ticks on and money runs out at home, it gets worse.  

Yet again, schools are picking up the strain of this. Our polling shows that 50% of teachers report schools subsidising meals for children who aren’t entitled to, but clearly need, a free school meal. Headteachers are stepping in, using education budgets to subsidise lunches. Some will have to cut back – choosing between teaching staff and feeding kids. Teachers are bringing in food to make sure their pupils have had something to eat in the morning. This isn’t right.

And it doesn’t have to be this way. 

We’re calling on the Government to extend entitlement to free school meals to all families who are in receipt of Universal Credit. Doing this will capture every one of the 800,000 children living in poverty, in addition to another 500,000 who are in the ‘just about surviving’ category. 

If the timing seems wrong to be calling for increased spending, and the moral case isn’t strong enough, recent research by PWC on behalf of Impact on Urban Health, indicates there is also a wider, long term economic and social benefit to society. For every pound invested in free school meals – the country gets £1.38 back over 20 years.

Ultimately, we don’t believe this should be about finances – it should be about caring for children and wanting them to reach their potential. School food can instil a healthy food culture, it can spark a love of good food, increase wellbeing, attainment and behaviour – the benefits of ensuring all children get to eat it are endless. 

For 120 years, governments in the UK have recognised that hungry children cannot learn. Our school food system, so well established and admired around the world, was the result of forward thinking governments of the time, recognising that investment in the future was needed. Our colleagues in schools and the catering industry stand ready to extend that support to more children. We can implement this tomorrow, we just need Government to recognise that this is the right – and smart – thing to do.

Show your support for the campaign by writing to your MP and signing the petition calling for change. 

Kids are our future, let’s feed them like it.


Write to your MP about this.
 Sign the petition. 

Kids are our future, let’s feed them like it.