News Children's Food Campaign

Two Cities: Why we must end the free school meals postcode lottery

School Food Matters has launched a compelling new film to highlight the disparity in access to school meals, focusing on two cities in England: Liverpool and London.

Children interviewed for the School Food Matters film: Two Cities. Credit: School Food Matters

Children interviewed for the School Food Matters film: Two Cities. Credit: School Food Matters

Sustain alliance member School Food Matters highlights that schools across England are regularly paying to feed hungry pupils, according to their polling of 10,000 teachers. The findings come amid growing calls for the government to expand access to free school meals. 

Watch the compelling new film: Two Cities: Why we must end the free school meals postcode lottery on YouTube

Schools have been drawing on their already over-stretched budgets and staff to ensure no child goes hungry, with some also setting up foodbanks and pantries to support families on a low income. 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.  

A new report from School Food Matters 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, they surveyed 10,000 teachers across England through the polling tool Teacher Tapp. They 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.    

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 

  • Follow and reshare social media posts on TwitterInstagramLinkedIn, or Facebook (hashtag #SchoolFoodMatters)
  • Share this video highlighting the disparity in access to school meal between the two cities in England  
  • Join the School Food Matters mailing list for more information on how you can get involved 
  • Click this link to send a letter to your MP: Take Action

Say Yes to School Food For All

Published Tuesday 21 May 2024

Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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