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Struggling Families Send Children to School Hungry as Cost-of-Living Pressures Mount

EducationStruggling Families Send Children to School Hungry as Cost-of-Living Pressures Mount
The cost-of-living pressures are mounting for hundreds of families outside of London, leading to a distressing situation where children are being sent to school without food. According to a recent survey conducted by The Food Foundation and The Bread and Butter Thing (TBBT), a significant number of families are unable to provide their children with access to Free School Meals, which has resulted in children going to school without lunch on some days.

Survey Findings and Challenges

The survey revealed that 16% of families without Free School Meals had to send their children to school without lunch because they couldn’t afford school meals or packed lunches, and an additional 42% were concerned about facing the same situation in the future. Moreover, 32% of parents reported that their child ate a smaller lunch at school on certain days due to financial constraints. The study also highlighted that 31% of children consumed less healthy lunches at school on some days, emphasizing the impact of financial hardships on their dietary habits.

Inequality in Access to Nutritious Food

The researchers noted that the survey results underscore the “postcode lottery” of access to healthy and nutritious food in England. This inequality in access to essential nutrition highlights the challenges faced by families residing outside the capital, where the extension of Universal Free School Meals is not readily available.

Government Interventions and Policy Recommendations

While the London Mayor announced the extension of Universal Free School Meals for state primary school children across the capital at a cost of approximately £130 million a year, families across the rest of England have to navigate specific eligibility criteria to access Free School Meals through their local authorities. The existing government rules entitle all children at state schools in England to free school lunches from reception up to Year 2. However, pupils in Year 3 to 6 from households receiving eligible benefits are eligible for free lunches, potentially leaving out many children living in poverty.
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The Child Poverty Action Group identified that at least 900,000 children living in poverty in England are missing out on Free School Meals due to the set eligibility threshold. Consequently, The Food Foundation is advocating for an extension of access to Free School Meals to all school children, with a prioritization for children from families receiving Universal Credit.

Call for Action and Assistance for Struggling Families

Shona Goudie, Policy and Advocacy Manager at The Food Foundation, emphasized the necessity of extending eligibility criteria for school lunches and addressing regional inequalities. Concerns were raised about the unfairness of leaving hundreds of thousands of children outside the capital without access to nutritious school lunches. As an election year approaches, policymakers are being urged to commit to ensuring that no child in England is left to go hungry at lunchtime.

Challenges Faced by School Officials

Matthew Knight, Catering Manager at Hillstone School in Birmingham, highlighted the challenges faced by schools and families in the Midlands. While acknowledging the extension of Free School Meals in London, he pointed out the plight of thousands of children in year 3 unable to avail themselves of this benefit. The strain of the cost of living crisis is evident, with families having to make difficult choices between paying essential bills and providing a nutritious meal for their children. This has led to an increase in packed lunches, with a noticeable decline in the quality of contents.


In conclusion, the escalating cost-of-living pressures are leading to distressing situations for families outside of London who are struggling to provide their children with essential nutrition. The disparity in access to Free School Meals highlights the need for comprehensive government interventions to ensure that all children have access to nutritious meals at school. As families continue to grapple with financial challenges, it is imperative for policymakers to address the inequality in access to essential nutrition and work towards providing support for struggling families across England.
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