New campaign and film ‘Say Yes to School Food For All’ launches on International School Meals Day, seeking an end to means testing by 2030.
Economic analysis from PWC indicates universal school meal provision could deliver up to £100 bn in health, educational and economic benefits over 20 years.
Access to free school meals is becoming a growing postcode lottery with more children set to receive free school meals in in Scotland, Wales and London, which campaigners says is unfair to the children and families left behind. To mark International School Meals Day (Thursday 9 March), a new coalition is launching a Say Yes to School Food For All campaign, seeking an end to means testing by 2030. They argue that all children should receive school meals, in the same way they get books, desks and chairs.
A range of education, health and food charities plus unions and local authorities are already backing the campaign, which also has the support of Henry Dimbleby, author of the national food strategy. The campaign urges the government to join countries including India, Brazil, Estonia, Finland and Sweden, plus several US states, and establish healthy school meals for all pupils. It is calling on all political parties to remove stigmatising means testing of children for food in school, and deliver healthy school food for all by 2030.
To launch the campaign, a new film made with children from Sacred Heart Primary School in Battersea, London imagines what might happen if other parts of the school day – chairs, desks, books, toilets – were means-tested like food. They are calling on schools across the nation to join them to Say Yes to School Food For All.
Barbara Crowther from the Children's Food Campaign said:
“We believe in an education system free at the point of access. We don’t means test children for pencils or desks, so why for food? We don’t means test adults or children when it comes to hospital and prison meals, so it’s perverse that we still insist on this for our children. Many other countries around the world have already realised this and now seeing huge benefits of healthy meals for all.
“A good, healthy education is the foundation of our nation’s future prosperity. Providing free school meals for all has been shown to improve educational learning, reduce levels of obesity and lead to long-term improved earnings and economic contribution. Recent economic analysis by PWC shows a return of £1.71 for every pound invested, and potential economic return of up to £100 billion over a 20 year period. It’s time to stop saying no to our nation’s children and say yes instead to healthy school food for all.”
Campaigners point to the increasing postcode lottery of access to healthy school meals for children and hardworking families. The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has also announced he will now provide free school meals in all London primary schools during the 2023/24 academic year and is calling on the government to step up and commit to fund school food beyond his own emergency measure. Scotland and Wales are currently expanding universal primary meals and exploring further support at secondary level. The current eligibility threshold under Universal Credit for children in England is just £7400 household earnings after tax, before benefits, regardless of the family size.
Author of the School Food Plan and National Food Strategy, Henry Dimbleby, has backed the campaign and said:
"It doesn’t seem fair that some UK children get a free meal, and others don’t. It also doesn’t make much economic sense. There’s a wealth of international evidence that points to universal free school meals being excellent value for money because it improves attainment and provides an opportunity to feed children healthy food, setting good dietary habits for life. This is important as diet-related disease costs the NHS billions and decreases the quality of life for millions of people.”
John Vincent, founder of LEON Restaurants and co-author of the School Food Plan said:
“We spent a year in 2012 analysing the human, practical and economic realities of school food. We concluded that good free school meals for all benefits the health and attainment of children and makes economic sense. And now ten years on, the evidence from the UK and abroad makes a strong case that all children should have access to free school meals.”
Jared Brading, Executive Headteacher, Federation of Sacred Heart & St Mary’s RC Primary Schools, Battersea, LB Wandsworth said:
“Hot, healthy school meals are so important to children and their families. We see the results of a quality lunch in the classroom: better fed children become better performing pupils. After the brilliant news that the Mayor of London will fund school meals for all children in London primary schools, it would be great to see this vital support extended further. This is why the children of Sacred Heart have starred in this film, because here we say ‘yes’ to free school meals for all.”
Over 40 organisations, unions, councils, MPs and other figures are founding signatories in launch of the campaign today (9 March) and are now inviting everyone in the UK – individuals, organisations, councils, local community groups, schools politicians, businesses – to join in and say yes, by adding their name to a new interactive supporter map of the UK. Other founding organisations include the Food Foundation, School Food Matters, Child Poverty Action Group, British Youth Council, UK Youth Parliament, The Children’s Society, Impact on Urban Health, the Institute of School Business Leadership, Diabetes UK, the Royal Society of Paediatrics and Child Health, the National Education Union and UNISON. The campaign launch is also backed by MPs from five different political parties.
The coalition includes the UK Youth Parliament, who are also launching their own campaign for universal school meals today in partnership with Child Poverty Action Group and inviting MPs to meet with them over a school meal. The Youth Parliament have chosen to focus on cost of living and its impact on health and wellbeing as their campaign theme for 2023 following a recent House of Commons sitting.
Dylan Baldock, a Member of the Youth Parliament representing Surrey Heath said:
“The cost-of-living crisis has left many families across the UK in need of additional support. We’re proud to be founding signatories of the Say Yes campaign for universal free school meals, which will ensure school age children and young people can access a hot, nutritious lunchtime meal, as well as being one less thing for those facing financial hardship to worry about.”
Liv Eren, a young anti-poverty and social mobility campaigner said:
“As a previous recipient of free school meals - I know all too well the importance of that one free meal a day, and the positive impacts that it had on my attendance, attainment but also my mental well-being. School food for all is the very least we can do to support our young people and their families navigate the cost-of-living crisis.”
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on School Food said:
“I'm proud to support this campaign - I have championed the universal school food cause throughout my time in Parliament and believe that every child should have access to a hot, healthy and nutritious school lunch, so I absolutely back Sustain's Say Yes campaign."
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