All families on universal credit should get free school meals, says ex-children’s tsar

Anne Longfield says poverty hasn’t been tackled well enough, as teaching unions in England urge chancellor to expand free meals

The former children’s commissioner for England has called for free school meals to be extended to all families on universal credit, while acknowledging that poverty has not been tackled in this country “well enough”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Anne Longfield, who is chairing a year-long commission on young lives, said she had supported the extension of free school meals to all families receiving the benefit for “some time”, adding that this was something Marcus Rashford and Henry Dimbleby had also called for.

It came as teaching unions have written to the chancellor and education secretary asking for free school meals to be provided for all children from families receiving universal credit in England.

In a letter seen by the BBC, unions and organisations claiming to represent 1 million school staff asked for an urgent expansion of the scheme amid the cost of living crisis. It said vulnerable children not receiving the meals were facing a “real barrier to learning”.

“We see the devastating reality of children coming to school unable to afford to buy lunch, because their family circumstances mean they fall outside the restrictive free school meal eligibility criteria,” the letter said.

Longfield said: “[Free school meals for families on universal credit] is something that makes sense in any day. But at the moment we’re in a huge financial turmoil, families are struggling with the huge cost of living increase, so [free school meals] adds certainty.

“It means that all children get a nutritious meal, they learn and concentrate better, and it makes a positive difference to their physical health and their time in school.”

Longfield said she supported making schools meals free for all primary-age children, as it “takes away the stigma from the young children which would take free school meals”.

She added: “But ultimately this is about tacking poverty, which is something we haven’t done in this country well enough”.

However, she said a first step would be to extend it to families from lower incomes.

Sign up to First Edition, our free daily newsletter – every weekday morning at 7am BST

In England, all infant state school pupils up to year two can get free school meals during term time. For pupils in year three and above, those living in households on income-related benefits (such as universal credit) are eligible, as long as their annual household income does not exceed £7,400 after tax. That figure does not include welfare payments.

In Northern Ireland the cap is set at £14,000 a year. Scotland and Wales have committed to providing free school meals for all primary school pupils.

A government spokesperson, in response to the letter, said: “We recognise that millions of households across the UK are struggling to make their incomes stretch to cover the rising cost of living, which is why, in addition to the over £22bn announced previously, we are providing over £15bn in further support, targeted particularly on those with the greatest need.”


Tobi Thomas

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Nearly one in three children in north-east England on free school meals
Figures shows 10% rise in FSM across England and school leaders say real child poverty level is even higher

Richard Adams Education editor

09, Jun, 2022 @3:43 PM

Article image
350,000 children 'will lose free school meals in welfare reform' – charity

Children's Society says coalition's universal credit, as currently envisaged, seems a step backward

Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor

19, Apr, 2012 @5:00 AM

Article image
Marcus Rashford calls for urgent review of free school meals system
Footballer’s request comes after Boris Johnson admits quality of some food parcels was sub-standard

Patrick Butler, Sally Weale and Jessica Elgot

13, Jan, 2021 @6:45 PM

Article image
England's free school meals scheme to close for new claims over summer
Families who become eligible for vouchers during holidays will not be able to benefit

Sally Weale Education correspondent

14, Jul, 2020 @4:38 PM

Article image
What does Labour's school meals policy mean for families, teachers and politicians?
Jeremy Corbyn may be on to a winner politically but there are implications for welfare, health and education

Patrick Butler, Sarah Boseley, Nadia Khomami and Jessica Elgot

06, Apr, 2017 @5:11 PM

Article image
Over £1m owed by families in Scotland who cannot pay for school meals
Exclusive: Report for Aberlour children’s charity reveals scale of school meal debt for first time

Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent

06, Jun, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
‘It would mean so much’: parents on the need to expand free school meals
Experts say 800,000 pupils in poverty in England are excluded from free lunches. Parents and a teacher tell us what this means to them

Clea Skopeliti

11, Nov, 2022 @3:32 PM

Article image
How families on the breadline are ineligible for free school meals
Households in England must earn less than £7,400 a year before benefits and after tax to qualify, excluding 800,000 children in poverty

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

10, Nov, 2022 @5:00 PM

Article image
Zayn Malik urges Rishi Sunak to give free school meals to all children in poverty
Bradford-born singer who relied on free school lunches urges PM to extend provision to all families on universal credit

Jamie Grierson

08, Nov, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Johnson makes U-turn on free school meals after Rashford campaign
‘Covid summer food fund’ announced after pressure from footballer and campaigners

Rajeev Syal, Heather Stewart and Helen Pidd

16, Jun, 2020 @7:09 PM