OPFS Statement: Free School Meals
We stand with the Food Foundation and Marcus Rashford in writing to Boris Johnson to highlight the role of free school meals and family income (especially cuts to benefits and low wages) preventing families being able to afford quality food in and out of school with choice and dignity.
- Marion Davis, Head of Policy and Strategy
OPFS recognises the importance of free school meals to children’s health, wellbeing and educational attainment. We were therefore very happy to support the letter sent to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson MP regarding school meal provisions organised by the Food Foundation and Marcus Rashford.
We recognise that the provision of free school meals is devolved and operates differently across the UK and so feel it would be very useful for all UK nations to share and learn from each other’s approach. In Scotland, a universal approach to free school meals is gaining support across the political spectrum. The SNP have pledged to provide universal free school lunches and breakfasts to all primary school pupils in Scotland if they are re-elected this year. The Scottish Conservatives also pledged to introduce free school meals at both breakfast and lunch for all primary pupils. The Scottish Greens are committed to providing all pupils with access to a nutritious breakfast and lunch, including during school holidays and the Scottish Labour 2019 manifesto also committed to extending free school meals to include all school years and during holidays. Removing the means test from school meals greatly reduces the financial burden on many families and removes stigma.
OPFS supports a ‘cash first’ approach to school meals replacement during all school holidays and periods of enforced closures caused by the pandemic. We are pleased see the progress on that in Scotland and that Scottish Government and Local Authorities now recognise that this is the best approach.
We also support recognition in the letter to the PM of the role of family income (wages and benefits) in enabling families to afford quality food in and outside of school time and during the holidays with choice and dignity. The review requested in the letter would provide the UK Government with the opportunity to carefully consider the wider context of how best to support low-income children and families in the aftermath of the pandemic.
In the food poverty debate we believe it is important not to forget the causes: benefits have been frozen for many years; the two child policy limits benefits to two children – so a second or third child has to be fed on money for two children; the benefit cap has pushed families into ever deeper poverty, to foodbanks and often homelessness, with devastating impacts on family well-being and health.
Many single parents live in the private rented housing sector and private sector tenants on benefits seldom get all their rent paid so have to use money for food to pay the difference.
Free school meals and their cash replacement during school holidays/closures alone won’t end child poverty, but they will go some way towards supporting family incomes while also making school a more equal experience for pupils. However, in order to reduce child poverty, the government must also increase household budgets so families can afford the things they need for their children throughout the year.