27 Sep 2023 Guest blog: Is it fair to have a postcode lottery on school food?
In our latest guest blog, Naema Jannath, Children’s Food Campaign Officer at Sustain, discusses the need to ensure every child has access to a healthy school meal, despite their postcode.
Every child across the UK deserves the same equal access to a healthy and nutritious school meal. It’s an important part of children’s life at school and one of the building blocks to children reaching their potential. There are many benefits to school food for children beyond just preventing children from going hungry. It supports concentration and better learning in class for everyone. It encourages children to try new foods and eat more fruit and vegetables. It ends the stigma created by means-testing children and families. It alleviates pressures and worries for parents, especially in the midst of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.
Despite these important benefits of school meals, only some children in primary and secondary have access to a school meal – it’s a postcode lottery. Thanks to additional funding of £135 million from the Mayor of London, school food has been rolled out for all primary school children in London. Scotland and Wales are also actively working towards primary school meals for all children. Some London boroughs including Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Westminster are also now expanding provision of school lunches to more secondary school children and other areas are extending access, with pilots from York to Stockport.
Some individual schools and charities have also stepped up to the challenge, digging into their own budgets to fund more school meals locally. Headteacher John Draper from Swaythling Primary School in Southampton went the extra mile of providing free school meals for the second academic year through his project ‘Operation Moonshoot’. Additionally, St John’s Foundation has been supporting six primary schools across Bath and North East Somerset, benefitting over 700 pupils.
But not all councils and schools have access to adequate funding. Children’s health and education should not be left to chance. The Government must stop this lottery game on school meals and say yes to a progressive expansion of school food to all children, in every region in the UK. That’s why the Children’s Food Campaign and our partners in Feed the Future have launched this action to MPs to end the school food postcode lottery.
There is already a huge support for school food for all. New research shows 7 in 10 people believe the current threshold of entitlement for free school meals (just £7400 annual income) is too low, or simply should not exist at all. Our Say Yes to School Food for All map has almost 1000 signatories, showing the strong support for school meals from various MPs, charities, locals councils and young people – we hope to deliver this soon in November. Many politicians from all the main parties have pledged their support during our May Parliament drop in and agree that something must change.
“This approach removes the stigma and ensures all children are ready to learn and achieve their potential.” – Blackpool based Conservative MP, Paul Maynard.
We need to ask MPs to stand up for the children in their area and ensure every child across the UK has the same chance to thrive in school.Ask your MP today to end the school food postcode lottery
Naema Jannath has just completed her Masters in Public Policy and has joined Sustain in June as part of the Children’s Food Campaign. She supports the school food related activities including the Say Yes campaign and also leads the work on the Children’s Food Ambassador program.