The action plan is to offer all primary children free meals, extend eligibility to benefits-based free school meals, ring-fence UIFSM money for catering and raise spending overall so that the amount schools receive for meals reflects food cost rises over the last 18 months.
Andrew Kemp, the Bidfood BFS group executive director, has drafted a document titled ‘The Future of the Provision of School Meals in State Schools in England’ that has been sent to political leaders and Government departments ahead of General Election, which must be held by December 2024.
He says: “We have now reached a situation where I truly believe this Government’s lack of action and appreciation will tip what has been a long standing and effectual service over the edge.
“We ask you to give careful consideration to our findings and, in addition to this, we urgently request that you include our suggested actions in your manifesto for the General Election as I can assure you we now have millions of parents and grandparents together with educational heads who recognise the crisis that we are embarking upon today.
“It is a physical fact that whilst the living wage has risen from 2015 to 2023 by some 55.5%, which is necessary and welcomed, it has in fact been ignored or overlooked that the physical feeding of children has moved by only 10% at a time where CPI, in the same measured period, has moved by 26.70% and is continuing to rise.
“The provision of school meals is so important for all our children. It is part of their education as it means that they learn about food and diet. It is a proven scientific fact that children, who are properly fed and hydrated, retain information and learn more effectively in the classroom. It prepares them to eat healthy food in adult life and prevent the onset of diabetes, obesity and other food related diseases thus saving costs to the NHS in the future.
“It is a sad fact that in 2023 there are many children whose only hot meal is the one provided at school. Without over dramatising the current situation, there is no doubt that without extra funding the school meals service is going to have difficulty sustaining its high values and service to the children. Many millions of children are going to bed hungry every day. This is totally unacceptable and a sad reflection on our country and society in 2023.
“Our future generation is therefore dependent on the future Government decisions to be able to fulfil their maximum potential. It is to be hoped that this paper will be helpful and will influence all the political parties to include the actions in their future policies.
“It is acknowledged that the next Government will inherit a difficult financial situation when they take office however, the provision of school meals in England is in a dire state and we urge all parties consider ensuring that our future generation of children continue to receive a healthy good quality meal on every school day. The next Government must decide whether to simply ignore this paper or to take the much-needed recommended actions.”
The report was prepared with input also from school meals consultant Patricia Fellows and Gavin Squires, Bidfood’s business development controller for education.