New report finds poor children going hungry at school | CPAG

New report finds poor children going hungry at school

Published on: 
15 June 2012

The British Youth Council and Child Poverty Action Group have today published a joint report, Going Hungry? Young people’s experiences of Free School Meals, on the failure of the free school meals system to reach all children in poverty.

Research for the report also found that many students who should get free meals are not given enough credit on their cashless cards to afford the menu prices for a full meal. The report recommends that the new Universal Credit should guarantee free school meals for more children growing up below the poverty line.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:

“It’s just not right that half the children growing up below the poverty line are refused free school meals. We cannot have children sitting hungry in lessons, or their learning will suffer. It would be a big step forward if all children getting Universal Credit in future and living below the poverty line could be guaranteed a full and healthy free school lunch.

“If children entitled to free school lunches cannot get a full meal then the system of cashless credit and the menus used by many schools are failing. This may even be in breach of the School Admissions Code as it is harder for poorer children to attend a particular school if they do not provide genuinely free meals like they are supposed to.”

Dara Farrell, 18, Vice-Chair of the British Youth Council said:

“The fact that so many young people said their Free School Meals allowance isn’t enough money to buy a full meal is disgraceful. For many of these young people, this will be the only decent meal they’ll have all day – making it even more important to ensure that it’s nutritional and filling. How can we expect young people to sit in a classroom, concentrate and contribute to lessons if they have not had a balanced meal?

“Lots of the young people also said that confidentiality was a big issue for them, and as someone who received Free School Meals myself when I was at school, I know only too well that it can be a stigmatising experience. Young people should be able to access healthy and filling Free School Meals without the embarrassment of their peers finding out, but the current systems in place at many schools makes this impossible.”


Notes to Editors

  • A copy of the report, Going Hungry? Young people’s experiences of Free School Meals, is attached with the email distribution of this media release – but remains under embargo until 00.01am 14th June 2012.
  • The British Youth Council (BYC) and the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) ran an online survey of 1,026 young people to gather their thoughts, and conducted a focus group with 13 young people from Calcot, Gateshead, Redbridge and North East Lincolnshire in addition to this survey. At least 190 students currently receiving, or previously receiving, Free School Meals (FSM) were surveyed, although no such identifying information was collected in the focus groups to maintain anonymity.
  • The British Youth Council has a network of young spokespeople who are able to talk about their experiences of Free School Meals. For interview requests please contact Jemma Roche on 020 7250 8368, or email
  • Despite the FSM scheme, many young people go hungry at schools. This is because:
    • Inadequate and complicated benefit rules mean that not enough young people are entitled to FSM
    • Only young people whose parents are on ‘out of work’ benefits get FSM, but children whose parents work in low paid or part time jobs are ineligible.
    • 2.17 million school age children currently live below the poverty line  but only 1.27 million are entitled to Free School Meals.  0.9 million poor students miss out.
    • The price of school meals is an average £9.40 per week 
    • The benefit system is changing, and the Government needs to make sure that when Universal Credit is introduced, all children in low income families can get FSMs.
    • Young people think that FSM should be made available to all low income families.
  • School meals are often given as an “allowance” to spend at the canteen. In many schools, however meals cost more than the allowance. Only two of the eight school menus we analysed would have allowed a full meal be purchased with the allowance. For example, in one school the allowance given to FSM students was £2.00, but the “meal deal” was £2.05. This means students on FSM often go hungry. It also means that schools may be breaching the stringent school food guidelines, but perversely, only for their poorest students Young people said:
    • “I don’t get a lot to eat, (and I’m) always hungry after having dinner… As we don’t get much food that’s why mummy still cooks us a meal at home but soon as we get home we eat lots while dinner is cooking”. (Under 11 year old)
    • “There's not enough money allocated to us and I go home hungry most days.” (14 year old)
    • “If you overspend you’re given detention and you have to pay back what we spent!” (15 year old)
  • CPAG is the leading charity campaigning for the abolition of child poverty in the UK and for a better deal for low-income families and children.
  • CPAG is the host organisation for the Campaign to End Child Poverty, which has over 150 member organisations and is campaigning for public and political commitment to ensure the goal of ending child poverty by 2020 is met.

For further information please contact:

Tim Nichols

CPAG Press Officer

Tel. 020 7812 5216 or 07816 909302