Pressure builds as free school meals petition passes 300,000 signatures

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

A petition urging an expansion of free school meals (FSM) to every child whose family is on Universal Credit as well as to cover school holiday periods has reached more than 300,000 signatures.

Launched by footballer Marcus Rashford, the petition is the latest move by his Child Food Poverty Taskforce, which has been set up as part of the #endchildfoodpoverty campaign.

It comes as the Labour Party has also called for the government to expand FSM to cover school holidays until spring 2021.

The petition calls for FSM eligibility to be expanded to include every child (up to the age of 16) from a household where the parent/carer is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent. This would give 1.5 million more seven to 16-year-olds access to FSM. It also calls on ministers to provide meals and activities to FSM children during all school holidays.

The petition states: “Government should support vulnerable children and #endchildfoodpoverty by implementing three recommendations from the National Food Strategy to expand access to FSM, provide meals and activities during holidays to stop holiday hunger, and increase the value of and expand the Healthy Start scheme.”

At the time of writing, the petition has been signed by 303,450 people. Having passed the 100,000 signature milestone, the petition is due to be debated by MPs in the coming weeks.

It comes as recent data from the Food Foundation revealed a dramatic spike in FSM registrations this term as the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic begins to hit families hard. New data gathered in September estimates that as many as 900,000 children aged eight and above have been newly registered for FSM (SecEd, 2020a).

In June, SecEd reported research showing that 43 per cent of families claiming Universal Credit or Child Tax Credits had already cut back on food because of the lockdown (SecEd, 2020b).

And new data from the Food Foundation shows that 18 per cent of eight to 17-year-olds – around 1.4 million children – have reported experiences of food insecurity over the summer holidays, including having to eat less, make food last longer, parents not eating because there wasn’t enough food at home, and children going hungry because of lack of food at home.

In the research, six per cent of children said they were worried about going hungry during the October half-term.

Anna Taylor, executive director of Food Foundation said: “We are now seeing a huge increase in the number of families struggling with loss of income due to the pandemic and many children are experiencing food insecurity. It is vital that the government expands the entitlement of a FSM to every family on Universal Credit if we are going to protect the most vulnerable from going hungry.”

Commenting after Labour’s calls this week, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The government must show that it is committed to social justice by extending FSM provision to school holiday periods during this time of national emergency in which many families are experiencing great hardship.

“We believe there is a longer term need to permanently extend FSM provision for all eligible children and young people up to the age of 19 in schools and colleges during every holiday period.”


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