Teachers Support Jamie Oliver’s Claim

Teachers and other education professionals have joined forces with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to call on the government to provide free school meals for all children in households on universal credit.

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The letter, seen exclusively by BBC News, is signed by the leaders of 12 unions and other groups claiming to represent a million teachers and education staff.

It adds momentum to a campaign backed by Jamie Oliver, who has told BBC News that the rule change would help some 800,000 of the “most vulnerable” children.

The government said it had already expanded access to free school meals more than any other in recent decades.

But the letter argues that much more needs to be done to tackle child poverty, which “blights life chances”.

“The government’s figures show that 1.9 million children are now living in poverty,” it says.

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“This is simply unacceptable in one of the richest countries in the world.”

The letter calls on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to use his “personal influence” to ensure all children eligible for free school meals get them.

It comes as government departments prepare for spending cuts.

But a Downing Street spokesman said: “We are committed to levelling up opportunity across the country and have expanded free school meals more than any other government in recent decades – providing nutritious hot lunches to 1.3 million disadvantaged pupils every day.”

The spokesman added that the government was “targeting its resources at the most disadvantaged children”.

“We are also spending £95bn this year on welfare – more than any other government in history,” he said.

But Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said: “It is a national disgrace that so many children are going hungry.”

She called on the government to immediately extend free school meals to all children who need them.

“No child in our country should go to school hungry,” she said.

“The government must also urgently address the wider structural problems trapping many families in poverty, including low pay and the high cost of living.”

The letter is also signed by the general secretaries of the National Education Union, Unison and GMB unions and the head of the Association of School and College Leaders.

The Association of School and College Leaders said it was “fully supportive” of the call for free school meals to be extended to all children in poverty.

“Children from low-income families are more likely to arrive at school hungry, which can seriously impact their ability to learn,” said general secretary Geoff Barton.

“It is vital that we do everything we can to ensure that all children have the best possible chance to succeed.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We are committed to levelling up opportunity across the country and have expanded free school meals more than any other government in recent decades – providing nutritious hot lunches to 1.3 million disadvantaged pupils every day.”

The spokesman added that the government was “targeting its resources at the most disadvantaged children”.

“We are also spending £95bn this year on welfare – more than any other government in history,” he said.

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