A new Feed The Future campaign, including Sustain's Children's Food Campaign, is urging the Government to commit to a long term vision for universal free school meals, starting with urgently raising the eligibility threshold for 800,000 children in poverty, as new research reveals significant economic returns on investment.
New cost-benefit research released by Sustain's partner Impact on Urban Health has shown that for every £1 invested in free school meals, there would be a much greater economic return from improved educational attainment, employment and health.
If free school meals were extended to all children in households under Universal Credit, the researchers estimate each pound would result in £1.38 return. However if free school meals were made universally available to all pupils, the returns would be even greater: £1.71 for every pound invested. Over a 20 year period, the researchers estimate that this approach could deliver economic benefits worth £41.3 billion over the next 20 years, if adopted.
In light of the findings, Kieron Boyle of Impact on Urban Health says:
“At a time when the Government is looking for ways to drive growth, this ground-breaking research shows that investing in expanding Free School Meals is a cost-effective way to drive economic growth and create a healthier society. It provides more than enough evidence for a transformational policy shift in school food and together with our partners, including the School Food Review coalition, we urge the Government to take this opportunity to create a more equitable school food system so more children are healthier and given the best chance in life.”
The new economic insights adds further weight to calls on the Government to urgently review the current means-tested approach to school lunches under which only families with net income of £7400 (before benefits) are eligible for meals. The campaign is advocating a long term roadmap towards universal school lunches, starting with immediate action during the cost of living crisis to address the growing crisis affecting 800,000 children living in poverty most at risk of food insecurity. Teachers, youth workers and school catering organisations are increasingly reporting heartbreaking stories of children arriving at school with no food and no money, or pretending to eat from empty lunchboxes, and even stealing from school canteens or shops, as the Evening Standard reports.
The campaign Feed the Future has now been launched, calling on the Government to urgently review school food funding, and expand access so that schools can provide a healthy hot lunch to any child who needs one.
There is considerable public support for expansion of free school meals, especially as a measure that targets help for children during the cost of living crisis. Polling for Children's Food Campaign by Savanta ComRes shows that 72% of UK adults back universal primary school meals in light of cost of living crisis.
Children's Food Campaign Co-ordinator Barbara Crowther says:
"If the Government is looking for sound strategies for, then it should look again at the case for expanding free school meals now. It's about having an education system that genuinely gives all children an equal chance to succeed, be healthy and contribute even more to our future prosperity. It's not just the right thing to do, it's the economically sound thing to do."
Education leaders have also expressed alarm at rising levels of need and called for free school meals expansion, and in September the Labour Party Conference passed an emergency motion supporting the universal provision of meals for all primary and secondary pupils. Chef and food campaigner Jamie Oliver, speaking on Radio 4 Today programme on 11 October, said England had the 'meanest' policy on free school meals - Scotland and Wales are both in the process of expanding universal meals to all primary schools and exploring increased access for secondary pupils.
Alongside calls for Government, we are also urging the public to write to their MP and demand free school meals are expanded to all children whose families are receiving Universal Credit, as the first and most urgent step towards making healthy school meals available to all children.
Published 11 Oct 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.
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