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 ChallengesThe 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 FoodThe 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 RecommendationsWhile 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.
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.
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