Why Free School Meals for All?

Free School Meals for All is a policy that helps both children and families – it is the ultimate ‘One Nation’ policy.  A Labour campaign is being launched to persuade Labour councils and the Labour Party nationally to adopt the policy of Free School Meals for All. This will be led by the GMB trade union, Fiona Twycross AM and Cllr Richard Watts (Islington).  The policy has the backing of a range of charities including Save the Children, Child Poverty Action Group and the Children’s Food Campaign.  There are three key reasons why we believe Free School Meals for All should be introduced:

1)  Free School Meals for All gives children better learning and better diets:

  • It boosts school results: according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) free school meals for all “significantly increased attainment”.  Children in the two pilot areas looked at (CountyDurham and Newham) made between four and eight weeks extra progress at school than similar children in similar areas.  In just two years of schooling that’s a lot of extra progress.  Free School Meals for All also is found to improve children’s concentration, learning and behaviour – after all, which of us is at our best when hungry?
  • It also improves children’s diets with strong evidence that the policy increase the consumption of healthy food and sends a strong signal to families about the importance of healthy eating.

2)  Free School Meals for All helps hard working families

  • Saving families £300 a year per child for school meals is a big help in tough times.  Most of the families that benefit are in the ‘squeezed middle’.
  • Means testing free school meals is a major contributor to the poverty trap and a disincentive to work.  Introducing Free School Meals for All will make it easier to make work pay for those currently unemployed.
  • Free School Meals for All removes the stigma of claiming free school meals, which prevents thousands of children claiming benefits they are entitled to.

3)  Free School Meals for All is a good investment:

  • Free School Meals for All improves children’s learning and health, which will save the public purse a great deal in the future.  It has been said that the cost of childhood obesity alone will bankrupt the NHS unless radical action is taken.

We think there are strong arguments on affordability and introduction of Free School Meals for All:

1)   We can afford Free School Meals for All
There is a cost estimated at £1 billion to ensure Free School Meals for All could be provided for both primary and secondary aged pupils.  This sum can be found from within current budgets in that it is less than the amount that the Public Accounts Committee found that Michael Gove has wasted in pursuing his Converter Academies programme.  There are also other sources of funding worth exploring e.g. the charity Sustain’s idea of a sugary drinks tax.

2)   A Universal Benefit worth introducing
Everyone believes there should be some mix of universal and targeted benefits; e.g. Labour still believes in universal free schooling and the cost of free school meals is minute compared to this.  It should be seen as part of the package of the state education offer not an additional benefit. At the moment means-tested free school meals increase the poverty trap, are a disincentive to work and penalise the working poor and families on the breadline.

If you are interested in joining or supporting the campaign due to be launched shortly, contact: Richard Watts on richard.watts01@gmail.com; Fiona Twycross on Fiona@fionatwycross.org.uk or Gary Doolan on Gary.Doolan@gmb.org.uk