The case for expanding free school meals (FSM)
A new report by CPAG and Covid Realities
The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Covid Realties have released a new report, Fixing Lunch: The case for expanding free school meals. The report brings together findings from CPAG analysis and the Covid Realities research programme to highlight problems with existing FSM provision. It also draws on research carried out as part of CPAG and Children North East’s UK Cost of the School Day project.
Despite a rise in the number of children claiming FSMs between March 2020 and March 2021, there are still one million school-aged children in poverty who miss out on any form of FSM provision because of restrictive eligibility criteria. The proportion of children in poverty not getting free school meals varies a lot across the 4 nations, and is highest in Wales and England (where 42% and 37% of children in poverty miss out on free meals respectively). Rates are much lower in Scotland (17%) and Northern Ireland (22%).
Key recommendations, developed with Covid Realities participants, are:
• Work towards the long-term goal of universal provision of FSM for all children across the UK.
• In the short term, increase eligibility to every family on Universal Credit (or equivalent benefits).
• Eligibility should also be extended to all families with no recourse to public funds.
• Follow the Scottish Government’s lead, extend free school meals to all primary school children across the UK.
• Support family finances throughout the year by addressing the inadequacy of the social security system.
• As a first step, the planned £20 cut to universal credit must be abandoned.