Food Foundation calls for urgent school food review

Following recent developments, the Food Foundation has called on the government to conduct an urgent comprehensive review into free school meal policy across the UK to feed into the next spending review. It says that the review should be debated in Parliament and published before the summer holidays.

The body says that the government needs to:

1. Review the current eligibility thresholds for free school meals across all four nations to eliminate disparities and to explore whether disadvantaged children are being excluded in line with National Food Strategy recommendation. The ongoing eligibility for children with no recourse to public funds should be considered explicitly.

2. Urgently consider how funding for free school meals can deliver the biggest nutritional and educational impact, supporting children’s learning and wellbeing throughout the school day and during the holidays. This should include whether the current allowance for free school meals is adequate and whether funding for national breakfasts adequately covers all who would benefit from access to provision.

3. Explore how schools can be supported to deliver the best quality meals which adhere to school food standards and which ensure the poorest children receive the best possible offer. This should include introducing mandatory monitoring and evaluation on an ongoing basis of free school meals take-up, the quality/nutritional adequacy of meals, and how the financial transparency of the current system can be improved.

4. Consider what we have learned from Covid-19 and its impact on children in low-income families, and the implications of this for school food policy for the next five years as the country recovers.

5. Consider how existing school food programmes can eliminate experiences of stigma for the poorest students. Review the impact that Universal Infant Free School Meals has had on stigma, health and education.

6. Consider the role of family income in enabling families to afford quality food in and outside of school time and during the holidays with choice and dignity.