Fixing Lunch: The case for expanding free school meals

Post date: 
31 August 2021

Free school meal (FSM) provision has been thrust into the media spotlight during the pandemic. But how widespread is FSM coverage? How do parents feel about FSM provision? And what do they think could be done to improve it?

This report brings together findings from CPAG analysis and the Covid Realities research programme to highlight problems with existing FSM provision. It also draws on research carried out as part of CPAG and Children North East’s UK Cost of the School Day project. CPAG analysis shows that, despite a rise in the number of children claiming FSMs between March 2020 and March 2021, there are still one million school-aged children in poverty who miss out on any form of FSM provision because of restrictive eligibility criteria.

Covid Realities participants highlighted three key areas where there are problems:

  1. Restrictive eligibility criteria.
  2. Increased financial pressures during the holidays and patchy holiday provision.
  3. Barriers to FSM take-up, and the need for universal provision.

Our key recommendations, developed with Covid Realities participants, are:

  1. Work towards the long-term goal of universal provision of FSM for all children across the UK, which would cost £1.8bn.
  2. In the short term, increase eligibility to every family on Universal Credit (or equivalent benefits), which would only cost £700m. Eligibility should also be extended to all families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF).
  3. Following the Scottish Government’s lead, extend free school meals to all primary school children across the UK at a cost of £770m.1
  4. Support family finances throughout the year by addressing the inadequacy of the social security system. As a first step, the planned £20 cut to universal credit must be abandoned.