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Children’s Food Campaign, youth MPs and primary school children hand in a petition at No 10 Downing Street calling for School Food for All

Young campaigners have called on the Prime Minister to ‘Say Yes to School Food For All’ from the steps of No 10 Downing Street, as they deliver a map showing cross country support.

Primary School children from Battersea, London joined members of the UK Youth Parliament and Children’s Food Campaign representatives in Downing Street today to show the breadth of support for Free School Meals for all. This coincided with the issue being debated at the annual Youth Parliament sitting in the House of Commons.

The Children’s Food Campaign have mapped over 1200 locations across the UK where there is support for School Food For All ranging from members of various political parties, schools, community groups, health and anti-poverty groups, as well as individual members of the public.

Signatories include: Henry Dimbleby, chef Tom Kerridge, the Jamie Oliver Group; local councils including Newham, Southwark, Islington and Liverpool City Council; Sustain, the British Youth Council, Child Poverty Action Group, School Food Matters, the Food Foundation, the National Education Union and the Soil Association.

Campaigners are calling for a roadmap to deliver free school meals for all, so all children get a nutritious hot meal during their school day. They point to the growing postcode lottery with more children eligible to receive school meals in London, Scotland and Wales in 2023/24 than in the rest of the nation. The threshold for entitlement to free school meals remains at £7400 total household income before benefits, which means 900,000 children living in poverty in England are missing out.

Naema Jannath from the Children’s Food Campaign says:

“We’re delivering our message straight to the front door of Number 10 Downing Street. All the evidence points to healthy and nutritious school meals supporting good learning, allowing children to reach their potential, with benefits that can last a lifetime. It can also help reduce levels of obesity, and lead to long term improved earnings and economic contribution.

“It is completely unfair that we have a postcode lottery of free school meals, which is why we are calling for Free School Meals for all, regardless of background. It’s time for the Government to invest in future generations.”

Recent polling by Public First shows that the majority of respondents (71%), including both Conservative and Labour voters, think the current income threshold for accessing free school meals is inadequate or should not exist at all.

In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan has committed emergency funding for meals in all London primary schools for the 2023/24 academic year.

In Scotland and Wales the devolved governments have committed to make school meals free for every primary school child. The Scottish Government has also promised to pilot breakfast clubs and explore universal meals in secondary schools. In Northern Ireland, there are no universal school meals but the threshold for eligibility of free school meals is much higher, at £14,000 (after tax, before benefits).

Dev Sharma, Youth MP for Winchester said:

“Our current postcode lottery system unjustly denies countless young people access to hot, nutritious meals, crucial for their physical and mental well-being. This is why I stand resolute in advocating for ‘school food for all’ – a commitment to ensure every child, receives healthy school meals.

“As I stand alongside my fellow Youth MPs and civil society members at 10 Downing Street, our collective voice in presenting a petition to the Prime Minister is more than a call for policy change; it’s a cry for justice, urging the government to extend free school meals. This momentous debate, part of our ‘Food for Learning’ campaign, is a critical step towards securing a future where no child is left hungry, where every young person has the sustenance they need to flourish in the face of rising living costs and the challenges they pose to their health. Our commitment on this day is an investment in the health, education, and future of every young person in our nation.”

Luke Hall, Youth MP for South Tyneside said:

“It’s more important than ever that government listen to the voice of young people. Today, the young people of the UK demand better school food for all, and it is a privilege to lead the UK Youth Parliament’s debate today for the North East. Extending Free School Meal support not only boosts the livelihood of young people across the country but is an investment in our future.”

Shifa Shahzad-Khan: Youth MP for Cardiff said:

“At the UK Youth Parliament’s annual House of Commons sitting, I will be speaking on the issue of quality of food within schools as a debate lead. This issue is of utmost importance as all children deserve hot nutritious school meals to fuel them for their education and for some, this could be the only proper meal they receive throughout the day. Free school meals for all should be the standard, and through this campaign and the work of the UKYP, I hope that we can secure future investment to achieve this goal.”


For information on the benefits of Free School Meals, please see this evidence pack

Public First polling on public attitudes to Free School Meals is available here

Current Free School Meal policy position across the UK

In England, universal free school meals are provided to all infants in reception, Year 1 and 2. A £7400 eligibility threshold for household income (before benefits) applies to all other households in receipt of Universal Credit. According to Child Poverty Action Group, an estimated 900,000 children living in poverty remain excluded from eligibility for free school meals.

The Mayor of London has committed emergency funding for meals in all London primary schools for the 2023/24 academic year. Five London boroughs (Islington, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Westminster) provide universal primary school meals on a permanent basis. Westminster, Tower Hamlets and Southwark are currently expanding school meals to more secondary school pupils.

In Scotland, the government has committed to make school meals free for every primary school child, and this is already happening for children in Years P1-5 and will be further extended to pupils in receipt of Scottish Child Benefit during 2023/24. It has also promised to pilot breakfast clubs and expand meal provision in secondary schools.

In Wales, the government has also committed to make free school meals available to all primary school children over the next 3 years, with all infants now receiving meals, and expansion to Key Stage 3 during 2023/24.  The £7,400 income threshold will still apply to secondary school pupils. Wales already provides funding for breakfast clubs on a national scale.

In Northern Ireland, there are no universal school meals. The family earnings threshold for eligibility for free school meals is £14,000 (after tax, before benefits). School meal eligibility is under review.

Published Friday 17 November 2023

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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