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Demand for free school meals rises sharply this Autumn

12th Oct 2020 - 05:00
New data from the Food Foundation, released as part of the joint #EndChildPoverty campaign with England footballer Marcus Rashford, has revealed an ‘extremely’ high demand for free school meals this Autumn.

A survey conducted by Childwise found that as many as 2.2 million children aged 8-17 are registered for free school meals, with 42% of these children being newly registered for the scheme. The increase in demand highlights the socio-economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Eight percent of children (over 600,000) said they were worried about not having enough food for lunch at school this term. A hot school lunch meal may be the only hot meal that disadvantaged children receive every day.

Rashford, commented: The numbers recorded here just reinforce the need for urgency in stabilising households. This is a pandemic that could leave longer-term devastation than Covid-19.  We must act now to protect the next generation and the most vulnerable across the UK.”   

The Food Foundation is part of Rashford’s Child Food Poverty Task Force, along with 20 charities and key names from the food industry. The Task Force is calling on the Government to allocate sufficient budget to help vulnerable families this Autumn.  

Despite the spike in demand, schools are struggling to provide enough hot lunches for children. According to the Childwise survey only 32% of children aged 8-17 said they were eating hot meals from the school canteen and 3% of children said they skipped lunch entirely.  

Stephen Forster, Chair of LACA, added: LACA’s members have been working hard to resume a full school meals service since schools fully reopened. We understand many school caterers have continued to serve hot meals, sadly others have been stopped completely.

“We are now concerned about an increasing number of children whose families have been severely impacted by the effects of Covid-19, who need support in accessing a free hot, healthy and nutritious meal at school.

“It is also important we encourage parents, who can do so, to pay for hot school meals again which will further support the sustainability of the school food service in helping those most in need.

“This is why LACA have launched our Hot’ober initiative which has been created to encourage conversations between caterers, school representatives, on site staff and parents to facilitate the return of hot lunches as soon as everyone feels it is safe to do so.”

Research from the University of Leeds has shown that less than 2% of packed lunches meet nutritional standards. Since returning to school around half of children in the UK are reported to be having packed lunches.

Dr Charlotte Evans, associate professor in the School of Food Science and nutrition at Leeds University, said: “This study underlines the role that parents, carers, the Government and the food industry have in ensuring children eat more healthily.

“The research has found that on some fronts, packed lunches have improved but they are still dominated by sweet and savoury snack food and sugary drinks. The vast majority provide poor nutritional quality. Addressing that issue over the next ten years will require a concerted effort.”

The Office for Budgetary Responsibility has predicted there will be a rise in unemployment to 13.2% by the first quarter of 2021, making more than 300,00 adults food insecure.  

Written by
Edward Waddell