Celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver, Tom Kerridge and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are backing a new campaign to expand Free School Meals to all children in households on Universal Credit.
The campaign, called Feed the Future and run by the Food Foundation, is asking people to write to their MP and ask them to urgently act on food and health inequality.
Free School Meals provide vital support to families struggling with cost-of-living pressures, but they are not available to all in need. The Feed the Future campaign wants to see the government provide them for all children in households on Universal Credit, as a first step towards a longer-term commitment to Universal Free School Meals.
Fearnley-Whittingstall stressed how crucial this is on Twitter, where he said: “Around 800,000 children living in poverty are currently missing out on this vital safety net because they do not meet the eligibility criteria. This needs to change.”
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme as the campaign launched this week, Oliver said: “We know in every way, shape and form that kids who have a decent lunch and breakfast, learn better, their educational attainment is better, they get paid better and they are more productive – but no-one’s taken it seriously yet.”
New research has shown how wider school meal provision would also deliver significant economic benefits. For every £1 invested in providing free school meals to children receiving Universal Credit, £1.38 would be returned through economic gains by improved health, learning and employment outcomes, according to data produced for the Food Foundation.
“Investing in expanding Free School Meals is a cost-effective way to drive economic growth and create a healthier society. It provides more than enough evidence for a transformational policy shift in school food,” explained Kieron Boyle, chief executive of Impact on Urban Health, which commissioned the research.
The news comes as an ever-growing number of parents, teachers, school canteen staff and educational support workers are taking to social media to flag that, even in affluent areas, children are going hungry.
The much-anticipated 2021 National Food Strategy would have encompassed measures like extending free school meals to more children, to ensure a healthy diet as the foundation for lifelong healthy eating habits alongside a transition to sustainable farming, but the government has so far ignored the majority of the recommendations made by report author Henry Dimbleby.
According to a new Food Foundation survey, there is huge public support for extending Free School Meals; 87 per cent believe that the government has ‘a lot’, or ‘some’, responsibility for helping children impacted by food poverty, and 72 per cent support the expansion of Free School Meals to these children.
Executive director of the Food Foundation, Anna Taylor, said: “The cost-of-living crisis is having an awful impact on children with many going hungry and not getting the nutrition they need to grow up healthily. This is being seen by people across the country and our findings released today clearly demonstrate that the public believe that the government needs to do more to help these children.”
What can you do to help?
Christina Adane, the 18-year-old campaigner who started a petition asking the PM to extend Free School Meals to all children in poverty, said: ” Every child deserves access to healthy, nutritious food, but this isn’t our reality. I’ve seen kids go hungry at lunch because they don’t have the money to get food. The fact we’re one of the richest economies in the world and young people don’t have access to at least one nutritious meal a day is shocking.” Want to support the campaign? You can sign her petition here.