Campaigners condemn 'short-sighted' refusal to fund more Free School Meals in Budget


#FeedtheFuture condemns Chancellor’s “extraordinarily short-sighted” refusal to fund more Free School Meals in Autumn Budget Statement 

Feed the Future and its vast coalition of supporters are deeply concerned that the Chancellor has ignored the chorus of demands to protect children’s health by expanding Free School Meals in today’s Autumn Budget Statement.

The decision means at least 800,000 schoolchildren living in poverty in England will continue to be denied a hot, nutritious meal at school.

The Chancellor has ignored pleas to extend Free School Meals from education leaders and teachers, health professionals, chefs and caterers, supermarket bosses and MPs from across the political spectrum, including members of the current cabinet.

He has also ignored the voices of affected children, many of whom face the shame and anxiety of going without food at school, as well the support of constituents, with 72% of the public supporting expansion of Free School Meals to children from households on Universal Credit. 

It is short-sighted for the Chancellor to ignore a policy intervention which expert analysis has shown will boost the economy by at least £8.9 billion over the next 20 years, improving health, educational attainment and workforce productivity.

Feed the Future is asking campaign supporters to write to their MPs immediately to urge them to demand that the Government reverses its decision and extend Free School Meals immediately. 

Link to write to your MP


Media contact

Lois Rogers - The Food Foundation - 07770 350 822 or 

Quotes from #FeedTheFuture supporters:

Dr Nick Capstick, Chair of the School Food Review Working Group said: “Today’s budget statement has ignored the vital need to support hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable children with the vital safety net of a nutritious school meal. As the basic cost of living soars, more and more families are struggling to afford nutritious food. Yet the current criteria are so restrictive, at least 800,000 schoolchildren living below the poverty line still do not qualify for a Free School Meal.

"Raising the eligibility threshold would provide immediate support to these children with the bonus of providing educational, health and wellbeing advantages in the long and short-term, helping to level up society and benefiting our economy."

Mirzan Kama, 16, London, Young Food Ambassador and member of the Young Conservatives, said: "It should be an indignation that so many children living in poverty aren’t given a Free School Meal. The benefits this scheme would provide the government and the future generations would be huge. Especially with the hard times the UK is facing.

"It’s about time we gave people one less thing to worry about. This is why I put my full support behind the extension of Free School Meals to all children in households receiving Universal Credit."

Saf, 18, Portsmouth, Food Foundation’s Young Food Ambassador said: "The fact that children go hungry, ignored by our government, in 2022 is a disgrace. How many more children need to go to school with empty lunch boxes for something to be done? There is a solution, we can all see it - providing Free School Meals. This budget could have saved so many children’s futures."

Ollie, 15, Manchester, Bite Back 2030 Youth Board Member, said: "Meals are simply a necessity especially in school and, for some young people, them being free is the only way to access them. What's stopping the government from making child health a priority?"

Jamie Oliver, chef and campaigner, said: "Every day kids are asked to not give up and to keep trying at school. I just wanted to let the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, know that we won’t give up until every kid who needs it has access to a free school meal."

Tom Kerridge, chef and campaigner, said: "The decision today is a disgrace, especially when MPs get £17 million in food subsidies. The Government has a moral obligation to these children, the most vulnerable in our society and we will not stop fighting for these kids.

"I ask all Government ministers to put themselves in the shoes of these parents, to put themselves in the shoes of these children and do the right thing and extend school meals. No child should be going to school hungry." 

Anne Longfield, Chair of the Commission on Young Lives and former Children’s Commissioner for England, said: "The Chancellor’s decision not to extend Free School Meals to all those receiving Universal Credit is disappointing and infuriating when we know that there are children from poor families who are going hungry at school because they are not eligible under the current rules.

"It is shocking that the Government has chosen to continue to ignore the scale of a problem that is only likely to become even worse in the months ahead."

Dr Helen Stewart, Officer for Health Improvement at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "It’s disheartening to see that countless calls from healthcare professionals, teachers, parents and the wider public to extend Free School Meals in England have gone unanswered. Good nutrition lies at the heart of health and wellbeing for children and young people, as well as improving learning outcomes.

"Extending access to Free School Meals is one of the key things the government can do rapidly to reduce unacceptable inequalities in health outcomes that continue to grow. As paediatricians, we will continue to campaign for further action on Free School Meals and advocate for vulnerable children at every opportunity. The health and wellbeing of our children depend on it."

Feed the Future partner quotes

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, said: "The Chancellor’s decision to overlook the wealth of compelling evidence and groundswell of public support to extend Free School Meals is not just extraordinarily short-sighted; it lacks compassion. At a time of soaring taxes and inflation, this highly targeted intervention would have transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children.

"Today’s budget has not deterred us from speaking up on behalf of these children - it has only served to stoke the fires of our campaign. It is now more important than ever to flood the inboxes of our MPs to request their support."

Stephanie Slater, Founder/Chief Executive of School Food Matters, said: "“The government has yet again neglected an opportunity to support the health and wealth of its people. Today’s budget could have extended Free School Meals, a policy which will not only support the most vulnerable in our society but also produce huge returns for the economy.

"Instead, they have ignored headteachers and health professionals, economists and academics and the young people who have shared their stories of hunger and shame. This Government may not prioritise children’s health and wellbeing, but we do, and we will not stop until every schoolchild in the country has access to the nutrition they need to thrive."

Barbara Crowther, Co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign at Sustain, said: "It’s shameful that there’s not even a crumb from the Chancellor’s table for the nation’s schoolchildren in this budget statement. Whilst the Government plays Scrooge, a growing number of countries around the world, including Scotland and Wales, are realising the incredible power of school meals for boosting children’s health and educational success, and are making this part of their economic recovery plans.

"Despite the Government’s failure to act this week, there is fast-growing cross-party political and public consensus that it’s time to Feed The Future. The question is no longer ‘if’ but ‘when’, and our campaign is far from over.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: "The Government must ensure no child comes to school too hungry to learn and honour their commitment to protect the most vulnerable families. No matter what's happening with the economy, there is nothing more important than securing the health and wellbeing of children and young people, and extending Free School Meal provision would have supported this enormously.

"We urge Government to rethink and take immediate action to provide every child in primary school with a FSM, so that no child is left behind."

Kieron Boyle, Chief Executive of Impact on Urban Health, said: "If compassion, and strengthening the nation’s finances, are to be at the heart of the Government’s approach, the Autumn Statement needed to go much further. Despite increases to income and access to free financial advice, families in the communities we support tell us that it is simply not enough to tackle the negative impacts of the cost of living crisis on their health.

"We need to see a greater focus on interventions that will help to create a healthier society, which in turn will help to boost the economy. We know, for example, that expanding Free School Meal eligibility will both support families most in need and grow the economy by billions of pounds. This is a cost-effective policy change that tackles the cost of living head on."

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: "Hunger is holding children back while they try to learn. That isn’t right. The wider public doesn’t like it and it jars with the Government’s pledge to protect the most vulnerable. Feed the Future will fight for expanding free school meals eligibility until every child who needs one has one. A meal in the middle of the day is the bare minimum protection we owe kids in a cost of living crisis."

About Feed the Future
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Feed the Future is a campaign led by a coalition of organisations including The Food Foundation, Bite Back 2030, School Food Matters, Child Poverty Action Group, Impact on Urban Health, Chefs in Schools, Jamie Oliver Ltd and Sustain. This coalition is making the case that Free School Meals should be extended to more children.

About the School Food Review Working Group
The School Food Review Working Group is a coalition of 36 organisations spanning charities, educational organisations, catering companies, unions and academics, committed to working together to improve children’s health by reforming the school food system.

About The Food Foundation
The Food Foundation is a charity working to influence food policy and business practice, shaping a sustainable food system which makes healthy diets affordable and accessible for all. We work in partnership with researchers, campaigners, community bodies, industry, investors, government and citizens to galvanise the UK’s diverse agents of change, using surprising and inventive ideas to drive fundamental shifts in our food system. These efforts are based on the continual re-evaluation of opportunities for action, building and synthesising strong evidence, convening powerful coalitions, harnessing citizens’ voices and delivering impactful communications.
Registered Charity Number 1187611.

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