Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, has signed a cross-party letter from fifty six MPs to the Chancellor calling for free school meals for all primary school pupils to be included in the budget on 15th March.
Free school meals have been extended to all primary schools in Wales, Scotland and London. Across the rest of the country however, many young children are missing out on a hot lunch every day due to the constraints on free school meal eligibility. Currently, free school meals are provided until Year 2. The letter sent to the Chancellor asks that this be extended to all primary school pupils in the budget.
The Liberal Democrats also proposed an amendment to the Government’s now scrapped Schools Bill, which would have extended the provision of free school meals to all children, including those in secondary school, whose parents are in receipt of universal credit. The amendment would have placed a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that sufficient funding was available to schools to provide this.
It has been revealed that the cost of living crisis has resulted in the number of children in food poverty doubling to almost four million. The Food Foundation think tank says that one in five (22%) of households reported skipping meals, going hungry, or not eating for a whole day in January. That is up from 12% at the equivalent point in 2022.
After energy costs, the spiralling price of putting food on the table is the biggest single pressure on low-income household budgets. Grocery inflation has spiked massively in the past year and is currently 17.1%, the highest on record. Free school meals would save parents £440 a child annually, significantly lowering financial pressures on struggling families.
Currently, to be eligible for free school meals households must have an annual income of less than £7,400 before benefits and after tax. That threshold has been frozen since 2018 even though prices have risen since then.
Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, commented: “Every young child needs at least one hot, healthy meal each day. Too many are slipping through the cracks and going hungry due to complicated application processes.
“At a time of intense cost of living pressures, children must be a priority. If we do not invest in children, we are not investing in our future.
“Providing all primary school pupils with adequate, healthy food is absolutely fundamental to this. It is not just of great benefit to the child but lifts a tremendous burden off struggling parents, too.
“Financial pressures on families are coming from all sides but a young child getting a hot, healthy meal each day at school would play a role in easing them.”