UK parents fear rampant kid starvation and want free school lunches. As children prepare to return to school in the coming weeks, many are calling for the government to implement universal free school lunches to help alleviate the epidemic of childhood hunger.
Child Poverty Action Group estimates that 800,000 children in poverty in England do not qualify for free school meals; now, principals are preparing for an influx of students from families who cannot afford to feed them adequately.
Paul Gosling, the principal of Exeter Road Community Primary School in Exmouth, stated, “Last winter, I already had a group of students who stood round the radiator outside my office every morning because they had no heating on at home and needed to warm up.” More kids will be showing up to school undernourished.
To keep the lights on, “let alone aiding families,” Gosling, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, said his school was concerned, but he would not allow any child to go hungry.
For example, Jonny Uttley, chief executive officer of the Education Alliance academy trust, which oversees seven schools in Hull and East Riding, has observed, “This [food poverty] is the single biggest difficulty schools will confront. In the future, there will be a rise in the number of hungry youngsters who attend classes. There will be a lot more to it than just free lunches at school.
Because of the increasing poverty in his schools, he said, “even before the horrible energy cap rises,” he had already begun making preparations for initiatives like breakfast clubs and uniform vouchers. The “possible size of the problem is so much worse” now, however.
All English kindergarten through second graders receive free lunch every day, but after that, only kids from families with annual incomes of £7,400 or less are eligible for free meals at school.
However, as of October, many people with incomes above this threshold will be forced to choose between food and heating due to the increase in the price cap for the average gas and electricity bill to £3,549.
Marcus Rashford, a footballer for Manchester United and England, led a campaign that ultimately resulted in a U-turn by Boris Johnson in November 2020 about free school meals for low-income families during school holidays.
The about-face occurred after receiving heavy criticism from charitable organizations, political opponents, and media outlets on both sides of the political spectrum.
Through its summer meals and activities program, the federal government once again provided funding to local governments this year.
However, Labour has criticized this program, arguing that it is insufficient because it only runs for four weeks over the summer break, leaving children hungry for the remaining eight weeks. The nonprofit sector is frustrated that the poverty line for free school lunches has not moved since 2018.
Uttley thinks the government should provide free lunch to all students, even if their income is beyond the poverty line.
As a result of the pandemic, “the government did an unprecedented thing with furlough,” he said. When compared to that, “it is difficult to believe that kid hunger isn’t as serious as that and doesn’t require as radical a degree of thought.”
Professor of accounting at Sheffield University and economic justice activist Richard Murphy argued that providing free school meals to all pupils in state schools was the only viable option.
He predicted that within a few short months, “we will be confronting the biggest economic disaster that anyone alive has faced.” Without swift and uniform action, “the consequence is not only child poverty but child starvation, and that cannot be acceptable,” the author writes.
Ministers have promised to try to speed up the implementation of the Welsh government’s plan to provide free school lunches to all primary school students by 2024. However, the SNP’s promise to provide free breakfast and lunch to all children in primary school by August of this year has not been fulfilled.
A single mother in Tyne and Wear told the Observer under anonymity that she is on universal credit and worried about how she will afford to feed her two sons this winter, but that they will not be eligible for free school lunches because she earns £728 per month working part-time in education administration.
You don’t need to turn the heat on because we have thermals and fleece pyjamas,” she remarked. To save water, we plan to wash the kids’ hair on the day they have their [free] swimming lessons.
In addition, she stated, “The cap for free school lunches is far too low.” So it seems we are impoverished, but not quite poor enough.
“It’s really difficult to become qualified for free school meals,” Andy Jolley, a former school governor and advocate for free school meals, said. A surprising number of job losers who seem like they should be qualified actually aren’t.
Registration, he said, “isn’t automatic.” It’s the responsibility of the parents to inform the school and then go through the extensive application process. It’s common for families to not claim due to cultural or linguistic obstacles.
More than 2,000 schools have enrolled in the National School Breakfast Program, according to a Department of Education official. More schools in low-income communities will be able to participate in the initiative after we increased funding to £24 million and opened enrollment in January.
With our home support fund, we are able to provide social assistance to 1.9 million children and their families, and we are also giving free school meals to these youngsters.