Free school meals: where did they start and what is being done for those reliant on them?
With the majority of UK schools closed, pupils and teachers are adjusting to working from home, but what does this mean for children who are dependent on the education system for hot meals?
According to childrensociety.org, ‘free school meals are a crucial entitlement for families living in poverty’, and around 1.3 million children in the UK receive free school meals. Children who are eligible for free school meals include those whose parents are on income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, and support under Part VI of the immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
Free school meals were first introduced to the UK in 1906 under the Education (Provision of Meals Act). In the 1980’s, the then government terminated the right to free meals in order to reduce the cost of school meals provided by local authorities. By 2004 school dinners had become a topic of debate which prompted Jamie Oliver to initiate a campaign into the improvement of school meals, which at the time largely consisted of deep fried food, such as chips and pizza. As of September 2014, children in the UK from reception to year 2 have been entitled to free hot meals, costing the government £2.30 per child.
In recent years, there has been a demand for healthier, more nutritionally balanced food in school meals from parents, school cooks and celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver. According to Gov.uk, successive governments have responded by working with schools to ensure that meals contain more healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables, and less fat, salt, and sugar; but with most schools now being shut, and children no longer having access to hot school meals, the Government has issued guidance on how disadvantaged children can still receive meals despite not being in school.
The Government’s free school meal alternative will see eligible children being given £15 vouchers, the equivalent to £3 a day, (70p above the £2.30 the government pays), which can be redeemed in major supermarkets; however not all parents are satisfied with the new scheme, as some children were provided with lunch equating to ‘rations’. One mother in East London was left when her child was provided with ‘a loaf of bread, tinned tuna and a packet of crackers as their lunch’ the Sun reports.