The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has been urged to use his spring budget to extend free school meals for all primary pupils to tackle “the child poverty endemic”.
The Scottish government has committed to providing free school meals for all primary schoolchildren, while in Wales the rollout of universal primary free school meals began in September.
But in England, only London primary school pupils will get access to free hot meals for one year starting in September. All children in England can get free school meals until the end of year 2.
At least 55 cross-party MPs have signed the letter to Hunt, which was coordinated by the backbench Labour MP, Zarah Sultana, calling for every child to have access to a hot healthy meal each day.
The letter has also been signed by the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, Labour MP and DWP select committee chair, Stephen Timms, backbench Labour MP, Hilary Benn, Liberal Democrat MP, Tim Farron, independent MP Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas and North of Tyne mayor, Jamie Driscoll.
It says: “The spiralling [cost of living] crisis is seen in our schools, with heart-breaking accounts of seven-year-olds stashing food from breakfast clubs for later in the day and children pretending to eat from empty lunchboxes.”
Last month the London mayor announced plans to offer all London primary schoolchildren free meals for one year, to tackle what he said was a failure by ministers to step up support during the cost of living crisis.
Khan said he knew “from personal experience that free school meals are a lifeline”, as his parents relied on them to give his family “a little extra breathing room financially”, and free meals could be “gamechanging” for others struggling to make ends meet.
Households in England receiving universal credit earning below £7,400 a year before benefits and after tax qualify for free school meals. In Northern Ireland, the family earnings threshold is £14,000 after tax and before benefits.
Sultana, MP for Coventry South, is taking her private member’s bill through parliament.
The free school meals for all bill will have its second reading in parliament on Friday 24 March.
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She said: “Only the Westminster government can end this postcode lottery, but instead the Conservatives are focused on whipping up fear and scapegoating refugees. I am calling on the government to embrace this opportunity to extend free school meals to all primary school pupils and address the injustice of child poverty.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Since 2010 the number of children receiving a free meal at school has increased by more than two million, thanks to the introduction of universal infant free school meals plus generous protections put in place as benefit recipients move across to universal credit.
“Over a third of pupils in England now receive free school meals in education settings, compared with one in six in 2010, and we have made a further investment in the National School Breakfast Programme to extend the programme for another year, backed by up to £30m.
“We have also acted on energy costs through the Energy Price Guarantee, saving a typical household over £900 this winter.
“The Energy Bills Support Scheme is also providing a £400 discount to millions of households this winter, and further support is available for the most vulnerable who will receive up to £1,350 in 2023/24.”