Following the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Spring Budget announcement, the Executive Director of The Food Foundation, Anna Taylor, said the following:
“The UK Government has made the right decision to provide extra support for childcare and make changes to the benefit system for parents receiving Universal Credit.
“However, there remains a big gap in the support provided by Government to protect school-age children from the consequences of hunger and poor diet. This means 800,000 children living in poverty continue to miss out on Free School Meals.
“Child food poverty has doubled in the last year – yet calls for Government to extend the threshold for Free School Meals is falling on deaf ears. Free School Meals are one of the few existing policy levers available to us that directly and exclusively target vulnerable children.
“Recent polling shows overwhelming support for the expansion of Free School Meals across England’s parliamentary constituencies – eight out of ten people in England (80%) want the Government to act.
“The Government has not responded to the evidence that expanding Free School Meals has cost benefits for our economy. Analysis shows for every £1 invested, £1.38 would be returned, through social, health and educational benefits.
“Many children excluded from Free School Meals are forced to skip lunch or rely on cheap, unhealthy food that damages their long-term health. If it continues to go unchecked, our child obesity epidemic will place a greater burden on our NHS and block our economic development. Conversely, a well-nourished child will lead a fuller, happier and more prosperous life.
“The Labour London Mayor’s recent decision to expand Free School Meals to primary school children in London should have spurred the Government to act nationally. Instead, we see a widening postcode lottery with children in London and in the devolved UK nations benefitting from progressive policy change, while children elsewhere get left behind. If the Government is serious about levelling up it needs to act urgently to make sure every child in the country receives a nutritious meal at school.
“We urge the UK Government to revise its decision on Free School Meals, and give our children the best chance to learn, be healthy and thrive. Doing so is popular with voters, will help with levelling up and boost our economy while protecting the NHS.”