News Children's Food Campaign

Majority of British public agree school meal eligibility rules are not working

As millions of children in England go back to school, new research commissioned by the School Food Review Working Group shows both Labour and Conservative target voters overwhelmingly support the expansion of free school meals to more children.

A group of students having school lunch. Copyright: Monkey Business Images shutterstock

A group of students having school lunch. Copyright: Monkey Business Images shutterstock

An overwhelming 82% of prospective Labour voters and over half (53%) of Conservative voters say they support the progressive expansion of free school meals to more children, in an extensive study of over 3,000 adults conducted on behalf of the coalition of 30 organisations, of which Sustain's Children's Food Campaign is a member. The findings show that a commitment to expanding free school meals could be an important vote winner in future elections.

The new polling data is released as millions of children go back to school this week in England, where the earnings threshold for eligibility for free school meals is set at just £7400, and has not changed since introduction in 2018, despite huge cost-of-living pressures. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, this means that one in three children in England living in poverty are not eligible for free school meals, an estimated 900,000 school-age children

The research also reveals that 71% of adults believe the threshold is either too low, or should not exist at all. 

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, says:

"This research has an instructive new finding. People now believe that children eating well in school to support their learning is so important that it would affect which party they vote for in the next election.

"It’s a clear signal that the status quo is both unfair and damaging, and voters want it fixed."

In London, all primary school children will start receiving free school meals from start of September 2023, as a result of a one-year £135 million investment from the Mayor of London. Five London boroughs already provide universal primary meals, with some now moving their investment to expand meals to more secondary pupils. In Scotland, all primary children up to P5 now receive a school meal, with staged expansion to the remaining primary years now being planned. In Wales, primary school meals are being expanded to all primary children by 2024. 

Children's Food Campaign, along with the #FeedtheFuture coalition is calling on all political parties to unite and put children's health and education first, and commit to a staged expansion of healthy school food for all children. 

Barbara Crowther, Children's Food Campaign Manager says:

"It's time to end this postcode lottery of school meal entitlement. We want politicians of all colours to say yes to a long term vision of achieving healthy school food for all. This new polling data shows that it would have huge public support on the doorstep. More importantly, it would end the current chaos and stigma that exists in our school food system, which is unfair for children as well as burdensome and bureaucratic for schools and local authorities struggling to work out who they can and can't feed each day. Just like chairs, desks, books and toilets, a healthy meal should just be part of every child's school day, helping them to learn and thrive."

Jared Brading, Executive Head Teacher at Federation of Sacred Heart & St Mary's RC Primary Schools in Battersea, London  has collaborated with Children's Food Campaign to produce our Say Yes to School Food For All film, and says:

"As we prepare to return to school, we look forward with eager anticipation to a year when all primary children in London will receive a Free School Meal.

"The expected increase in take up gives us the opportunity to work with the provider to truly enhance the food service and experience, placing food with educational achievement at the heart of school.

"However, we must not forget their siblings in secondary schools and cousins in the rest of the country who cannot enjoy the same provision owing to disparities in funding and policy. It’s time for school food for all."


Read the full release & polling data from the School Food Working Group here

Add your support to our Say Yes to School Food For All map


Note: Research was commissioned by the School Food Review Group, conducted by Public First with 3,011 adults from 27 June - 4 July 2023. The results are weighted by interlocking age & gender, region and social grade to Nationally Representative Proportions

Published Monday 4 September 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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