Parents back extending free school meals in primary school scheme | Politics | News

The majority of parents and carers want the Government to extend free school meals to all children in state primary schools.

A new survey found only a quarter – 26% – of parents in England said they had not had to cut back on family expenses since the start of the school year.

The poll, commissioned by the National Education Union (NEU) found more than half parents and carers said they had have to cut back on their food shop since September.

They survey found that one in three parents and carers struggling with food costs reported having less food – or healthy food – to put in their children’s lunchbox.

The poll, of 1,500 parents and carers with children in primary school, said 41% of parents in London have had to cut back on their food bills, compared to 54% across all of England.

The findings come after free school meals were extended to every primary school pupil in London this school year as part of a scheme to help struggling families amid the cost-of-living crisis. All children at state schools in England are entitled to free school lunches in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2.

But Year 3-6 pupils are not entitled to free school meals in primary schools – unless they are from households in receipt of eligible benefits.

Last month, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced that his policy – for all primary-aged children in the capital to receive a free lunch – will run for a second school year.

The poll, from the NEU’s No Child Left Behind campaign, found 88% of parents and carers outside London want the Government to extend free school meals to all primary school children in England.

The research, which also surveyed 1,500 primary school aged children, suggests that 37% of children reported knowing someone at school who sometimes does not have enough food to eat at lunch.

More than one in four (28%) pupils reported sharing food at least two to three times a month with peers because they did not have money to eat enough.

Ahead of the Spring Budget, campaigners are calling on the Government to commit to free school meals for all pupils in state primary schools in England.

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The Scottish Government has committed to providing free school meals for all primary school pupils and the full expansion is due to take place in 2026, while in Wales the rollout of universal primary free school meals is due to be completed this year.

Teacher Ann-Marie Ferrigan in Liverpool, whose pupils wrote to the Prime Minister on this issue last year, said: “The last few years I’ve seen an incredibly worrying rise in difficulty affording food, the worst I’ve seen in my career as a teacher.

“It is so vital that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak listens to the voices of parents and children and extends free school meals so that every primary school child in England can benefit.”

Dr Camilla Kingdon, president of The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “No matter what’s happening in the country, or the economy, children’s health is paramount.

“This poll supports what our College has been warning about for some time: the cost-of-living crisis is driving a decline in health and nutrition in children. As doctors, we call on the Government to urgently review their position.”

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the NEU, said: “It is simply tone deaf for this Government to claim that the cost-of-living crisis is easing when so many parents of all incomes are cutting back on food.

“The Chancellor has three weeks to decide if he is serious about young people. When he steps up to the despatch box for the Spring Budget, he needs to tell the country that free school meals should be available to every child in every primary school in England, not just London.”

A spokesman for the Mayor of London said: “With Londoners struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and the Government failing to deliver these meals, the Mayor stepped forward to provide them this year and has announced his intention to do so again next year as he builds a fairer and better London for everyone.

“It has been fantastic to hear from teachers about how much better pupils are performing this year and also how much families have benefited, with parents not having to worry about how to feed their children.

“Providing all children in state-funded schools with the offer of a nutritious meal during the school day helps to improve health and enable pupils to focus on their schoolwork, rather than worry about being hungry.”

A Government spokesman said: “We want to give every child the best start in life and we understand the pressures many households are under, which is why we have doubled the number of children receiving free school meals since 2010 from one sixth to one third.

“We are supporting the most vulnerable with record cost-of-living support worth around £3,700 per household and have halved inflation to help everyone’s money go further, while our household support fund is also helping people with the cost of essential