School Meal costing £2.47 still too high

As the cost of living crisis continues to bite, school caterers across England and Wales report a steep fall in the number of pupils able to pay for school meals.


In a survey of its members, the trade body LACA found that many caterers were forced to remove beef and chicken from their menus due to rising prices. Some even reported shortages of staples such as potatoes and pasta.


As a result, many children are hungry during the school day or resort to less-healthy options such as packed lunches or snacks from vending machines.


This has a knock-on effect on their educational attainment, with caterers reporting that more pupils are disruptive in class or falling asleep due to hunger.


The government has recently introduced free school meals for all infant pupils in England, but Laca is calling on them to do more to help struggling families across the country.


Jacquie Blake, Laca’s national chair, said the results were alarming for policymakers, with government funding for free school meals (FSM) inadequate in the face of rising prices.


She added that the government needed to work with schools and caterers to ensure that all pupils had access to healthy and affordable meals.

In addition, Laca calls for an extension of free school meals to all pupils from low-income families, regardless of whether they receive benefits.


“Many school caterers are at breaking point. Without adequate funding for school meals, the most vulnerable children will miss out on what in some cases is their only hot meal of the day,” Blake said.

“Caterers strive to provide hot and nutritious school meals, but this is becoming increasingly difficult and will only worsen in the coming months. Too many children are already falling through the cracks – their families cannot afford a paid school meal but are not eligible for free meals.”

school meal

The survey found that more than half of caterers reported a drop in demand for school meals over the last year, with many attributing this to families struggling to pay the costs.


A quarter of those surveyed said pupils were skipping meals altogether, while around one in ten reported increasing pupils borrowing money from friends or staff to pay for their lunch.


The findings come as the government prepares to launch a consultation on the provision of free school meals, following a report by MPs earlier this year which called for all infant pupils in England to be eligible for free school meals.


Lace urges the government to use the consultation to address the underlying problems with school food provision and ensure that all pupils have access to healthy and affordable meals.


This calls for the Department of Education to intervene by providing adequate funding for school meals and ensuring that all pupils from low-income families are eligible for free school meals, regardless of whether they receive benefits. Such a move would help to tackle child poverty and ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential.


On the other hand, England’s DfE has recently raised daily payments for universal infant free school meals – received by all pupils in the first three years of primary school – to £2.41 and raised the rate of FSM to £2.47. Laca urged the government to increase the universal rate to match FSM and for both to rise according to the inflation rate.


With more and more families struggling to make ends meet, the government must do everything it can to ensure that all children have access to healthy and affordable meals at school. Otherwise, we risk leaving them behind in their education and exacerbating the inequalities that already exist in our society.

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