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Sustain Coronavirus Food Alert Responding to food vulnerability

Food for vulnerable children

No child should go hungry as a result of school closures during the COVID19 crisis - all children have the right to healthy, nutritious food.

At least 1.5 million children in the UK (including 1.3 million in England alone) were eligible for free school meals before the current emergency. It is estimated that a further xxx million children were living in households experiencing food insecurity and low income, or families without recourse to public funds, but were not eligible for free school meals. 

In the first four weeks of the COVID19 outbreak, a reported 1 million additional households applied for Universal Credit, so the numbers of children previously registered under the Pupil Premium to receive free school meals are likely to have dramatically change in recent weeks. 

If you have information to share on this theme, please write to:

What we are calling for

Sustain, including the Children's Food Campaign, our Food Power and Right to Food programmes have the following calls to Government:

  • Support all children who are in need during this exceptional situation. This should include but not be limited to those who received free school meals (FSM) before schools closed, children in poverty who were not previously eligible for FSM but who had been receiving universal infant free school meals (UIFSM), as well as those whose families and carers might be facing recent financial difficulties due to Covid-19 or who have subsequently applied for Universal Credit and children whose families have No Recourse to Public Funds.
  • Where existing school catering provision cannot be delivered in line with government advice to stay safe and minimise individual journeys, we support the use of direct cash transfers or vouchers for families. Vouchers should be able to be used in as wide a selection of shops, markets, food delivery options (such as fruit and vegetable boxes) and supermarkets as possible. Voucher schemes should be equivalent to an amount that is suitable to cover at least five nutritious, healthy meals per week, and be available throughout school holiday periods, not just term time. Vouchers need to be provided in a way that does not impede access for those who have limited digital skills or resources.
  • Provide additional means-tested cash transfers to families who are experiencing financial difficulty, as is already happening in Northern Ireland, recognising additional costs to staying at home such as those due to increased use of electricity, heating or to cover access to the internet.
  • Support families and carers through uprating child benefits so that they have the financial means to support their families financially and stay safe as well as scrapping the Universal Credit five week wait before payments. If this is not possible then the advance loan should be turned into a grant.
  • Fund free school meals throughout the school holidays so as to ensure that children do not go hungry during this time period.
  • Provide financial grants and other support to school caterers to transition to providing meals for vulnerable people in the community, for example a meals on wheels service to older people. The Government must also release funding for local authorities to identify relevant vulnerable groups who could become the beneficiaries of this service, and to pay the school caterers for this service.
  • Provide free school meal support to all children, regardless of immigration status, and do not rescind the current temporary support for children with No Recourse to Public Funds when schools reopen. 

Sustain's Children's Food Campaign is working in close collaboration with members including School Food Matters, the Food Foundation, Soil Association Food for Life and Bite Back 2030 to lobby the Government to ensure healthy food is accessible for children staying at home, especially those who would usually receive free school meals. Sustain's Right to Food Campaign has also been lobbying specifically around children's right to free school meals regardless of immigration status, in particular children in categories with No Recourse to Public Funds. 

Our joint letters to (and from) government are downloadable here:

Useful organisations and links

School Food Matters - information and ideas for schools, families, teachers and feeding children during the coronavirus.

Bite Back 2030 - suggested recipes and a £15 shopping list for using the national school meal voucher, developed with School Food Matters. 

End Child Food Poverty - map showing local authorities, charities, food banks and community groups providing free meals during school closures.

Food Foundation - regular Covid-19 tracker on public access to nutritious, affordable food for everyone.

Let's Get Cooking - this British Dietetic Association site has plenty of useful tips for cooking with children at home, as well as healthy recipes.

Latest Government advice on free school meals




Northern Ireland

Good practice case studies

We are currently collating examples of good and "could be better" practice on the different ways free school meals are being delivered to families and children who need them. If you have stories, pictures and case studies to share, please complete our short survey

Coronavirus Food Alert: Sustain's work on food resilience in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.We are helping secure food for vulnerable people and supporting local emergency responses.

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