Teachers, campaign groups, health organisations and high profile figures supporting the #FeedTheFuture campaign have expressed anger and frustration that the budget statement from Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, has failed to protect access to healthy food in school for children in the midst of the current crisis.
In his statement to the House of Parliament today, this Chancellor of the Exchequer did not even acknowledge the growing alarm calls coming from teachers, school kitchen staff, parents and health professionals around levels of hunger and poor nutrition affecting pupils on a daily basis, affecting their ability to concentrate and learn. The #FeedTheFuture campaign has been calling for school meals funding to ensure an additional 800,000 children living in poverty can access healthy food they need to support their learning in school.
Whilst there was an announcement of an additional £2.3 billion for the education sector as a whole, there was no change at all to the scandalously low threshold of £7,400 for receiving a free school meal. #FeedTheFuture has been calling on Government to commit to a universal vision of school food for all children regardless of background, starting with an immediate and urgent expansion of eligibility to all families in receipt of Universal Credit.
Barbara Crowther, Children's Food Campaign Co-ordinator, says:
“It’s shameful that there’s not even a crumb from the Chancellor’s table for the nation’s schoolchildren in this budget statement. Whilst the Government plays Scrooge, a growing number of countries around the world, including Scotland and Wales, are realising the incredible power of school meals for boosting children’s health and educational success, and are making this part of their economic recovery plans. Despite the Government’s failure to act this week, there is fast-growing cross-party political and public consensus that it’s time to Feed The Future. The question is no longer ‘if’ but ‘when’, and our campaign is far from over.”
The Government did announce an additional £1 billion in funding for the Household Support Fund, which is distributed by local councils on a discretionary basis to support families with children, pensioners and others on low income. However, this does not change the official rules on which children are eligible for school meals either in term time or during school holidays via the national Holiday Activities and Food programme . At present an estimated 800,000 children in England live in poverty remain excluded from entitlement to these programmes.
The joint statement from the Feed the Future coalition says:
"The Chancellor has ignored pleas to extend Free School Meals from education leaders and teachers, health professionals, chefs and caterers, supermarket bosses and MPs from across the political spectrum, including members of the current cabinet.
"He has also ignored the voices of affected children, many of whom face the shame and anxiety of going without food at school, as well the support of constituents, with 72% of the public supporting expansion of Free School Meals to children from households on Universal Credit.
"It is short-sighted for the Chancellor to ignore a policy intervention which expert analysis has shown will boost the economy by at least £8.9 billion over the next 20 years, improving health, educational attainment and workforce productivity.
Feed the Future is asking campaign supporters to write to their MPs immediately to urge them to demand that the Government reverses its decision and extend Free School Meals immediately."
Sustain view on the budget
Deputy Chief Executive of Sustain, Ben Reynolds said:
“Prior to the pandemic the UK was already experiencing shameful levels of poverty and hunger. That is set to get much worse with the additional pressures caused by the latest cost of living crisis. Food aid colleagues are warning that they are overwhelmed by the levels of need. The Government should not be depending on food banks to manage levels of need in communities.
“While the £2.3 billion increase to the schools budget and £1 billion funding for the Household Support Fund are welcome, we would have liked to have heard much more from the Chancellor today about how to support families who are struggling to afford the healthy food they need to prosper. Increasing benefits in line with inflation is welcome and an increase to the National Living Wage to £10.42 is to be acknowledged. However, it is worth noting that the Real Living Wage is £10.90 an hour, which is calculated to cover the cost of living.
“In our view, the Chancellor missed out on the opportunity to extend the free school meal entitlement to cover the 800,000 children in low income households who are currently missing out. He could also have extended the very successful sugary drinks reformulation tax which encourages businesses to lower sugar levels and also raises funds to fund holiday hunger and school sports programmes."
What our partners say:
Mirzan Kama, 16, London, Young Food Ambassador and member of the Young Conservatives, said:
“It should be an indignation that so many children living in poverty aren’t given a free school meal. The benefits this scheme would provide the government and the future generations would be huge. Especially with the hard times the UK is facing. It’s about time we gave people one less thing to worry about. This is why I put my full support behind the extension of Free School Meals to all children in households receiving Universal Credit.“
Saf, 18, Portsmouth, Food Foundation’s Young Food Ambassador said:
“The fact that children go hungry, ignored by our government, in 2022 is a disgrace. How many more children need to go to school with empty lunch boxes for something to be done? There is a solution, we can all see it - providing Free School Meals. This budget could have saved so many children’s futures.”
Ollie, 15, Manchester, Bite Back 2030 Youth Board Member said:
“Meals are simply a necessity especially in school and, for some young people, them being free is the only way to access them. What's stopping the government from making child health a priority?"
Jamie Oliver, Chef and Campaigner, said
“Every day kids are asked to not give up and to keep trying at school. I just wanted to let the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, know that we won’t give up until every kid who needs it has access to a free school meal.“
Tom Kerridge, Chef and Campaigner, said:
“The decision today is a disgrace, especially when MPs get £17M in food subsidies. The Government has a moral obligation to these children, the most vulnerable in our society and we will not stop fighting for these kids. I ask all Government ministers to put themselves in the shoes of these parents, to put themselves in the shoes of these children and do the right thing and extend school meals. No child should be going to school hungry”.
Anne Longfield, Chair of the Commission on Young Lives and former Children’s Commissioner for England, said:
“The Chancellor’s decision not to extend free school meals to all those receiving Universal Credit is disappointing and infuriating when we know that there are children from poor families who are going hungry at school because they are not eligible under the current rules.It is shocking that the Government has chosen to continue to ignore the scale of a problem that is only likely to become even worse in the months ahead.”
Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation said:
“The Chancellor’s decision to overlook the wealth of compelling evidence and groundswell of public support to extend Free School Meals is not just extraordinarily short-sighted; it lacks compassion. At a time of soaring taxes and inflation, this highly targeted intervention would have transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. Today’s budget has not deterred us from speaking up on behalf of these children - it has only served to stoke the fires of our campaign. It is now more important than ever to flood the inboxes of our MPs to request their support.”
Stephanie Slater, Founder/ Chief Executive, School Food Matters said:
“The government has yet again neglected an opportunity to support the health and wealth of its people. Today’s budget could have extended Free School Meals, a policy which will not only support the most vulnerable in our society but also produce huge returns for the economy. Instead, they have ignored headteachers and health professionals, economists and academics and the young people who have shared their stories of hunger and shame. This Government may not prioritise children’s health and wellbeing, but we do, and we will not stop until every schoolchild in the country has access to the nutrition they need to thrive.”
Kieron Boyle, Chief Executive of Impact on Urban Health said:
“If compassion, and strengthening the nation’s finances, are to be at the heart of the Government’s approach, the Autumn Statement needed to go much further. Despite increases to income and access to free financial advice, families in the communities we support tell us that it is simply not enough to tackle the negative impacts of the cost-of-living crisis on their health. We need to see a greater focus on interventions that will help to create a healthier society, which in turn will help to boost the economy.
"We know, for example, that expanding Free School Meal eligibility will both support families most in need and grow the economy by billions of pounds. This is a cost-effective policy change that tackles the cost-of-living head on.”
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group said:
“Hunger is holding children back while they try to learn. That isn’t right. The wider public doesn’t like it and it jars with the Government’s pledge to protect the most vulnerable. Feed the Future will fight for expanding free school meals eligibility until every child who needs one has one. A meal in the middle of the day is the bare minimum protection we owe kids in a cost of living crisis.”
Published 17 Nov 2022
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.