Children could miss out on over 24 million meals this summer @UKLabour analysis shows after the Conservatives refused to fully extend free school meals during the holidays.
The Government’s alternative holiday programme proposes free meals are provided to children who attend associated activities on just 16 of 30 weekdays this summer break, leaving children without food support for 14 days.
Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children, Tulip Siddiq MP called the failure to guarantee free school meals over the whole summer “utterly shocking”. Labour is calling on the Government to trust parents and enable a system of cash payments for free school meals support during the holidays, ensuring families get the full value of this support and can choose the food and supplies that are right for their children.
Labour’s Children’s Recovery Plan commits to extending free school meals support across the summer to ensure no child is left hungry, as the impact of the Conservatives’ decision to take financial support away from businesses will hit families.
Labour has also warned that the increase in Covid rates, which could see 3.5 million people a week forced to isolate, will result in children missing out further as the Government has no plan in place to support holiday schemes to get food to children who are isolating.
Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children, said
“Feeding hungry children cannot be a part-time activity, yet this Conservative Government is again stripping away the support that millions of families rely on.
“Ministers have had to be shamed into providing food for hungry children throughout the pandemic and it is a disgrace that we are having to do this all over again.
“Ensuring no child goes hungry is at the heart of Labour’s Children’s Recovery Plan, which includes guaranteeing free school meals support over all school holidays during the pandemic.”
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
"The Government does not appear to be learning from its u-turns on free school meals and is ignoring the strong public support for meals in the holidays for these children. A short-term attitude from Government has made it hard for school leaders to make proper plans. It shouldn't be left to schools to have to highlight how important this is. That it should still be necessary to point out shortcomings in provision for the summer holiday is disappointing.
"The NEU thinks that it's just not acceptable for there to be 24 million missing meals this summer. We need to do things differently after Covid and make a proper strategy to address holiday hunger, so children aren't left behind in terms of opportunities."
There are 30 weekdays this summer holiday. The Government’s guidance to the Holiday Activities and Food Programme says: “The aim of the programme is to make free places available to children eligible for and in receipt of free school meals for the equivalent of at least 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, 6 weeks a year. This would cover 4 weeks in the summer”. 4 days across 4 weeks = 16 days.
This would mean children getting access to free school meals on just 16 of 30 weekdays. Meals missed:
Children eligible for free school meals
Days not covered by guidance
Meals missed on these days for kids
Labour has called for a system of cash transfers to ensure families get choice and receive the full value of free school meals support.
Labour’s Children’s Recovery Plan commits to ensuring no child will go hungry with Labour, by extending free school meals over the holidays, including the summer break.
Over half a million children have become eligible for free school meals during the pandemic
25th May 2021: Labour analysis estimates that over half a million children became eligible for free school meals during the first year of the pandemic, as the Party calls on the Government to extend free school meals over the May half-term and summer holidays.
Government data shows that from March to October 2020 over 11,000 children became eligible for free school meals each week as the Conservatives failed to support all families through the first phase of the pandemic. Combined with Labour FOI data this suggests over 418,000 children became eligible for free school meals from March – December 2020.
During this time, the Conservatives voted against feeding children during the October half-term and set out guidance which allowed the provision of miserly food parcels, in line with those shared online in January.
Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, will call on the Government to extend free school meals during next week’s half-term break and the upcoming summer holiday on a visit to Wolverhampton.
Currently, the Conservatives’ Holiday Activities and Food Programme proposes providing food and activities to children eligible for free school meals during just half the summer holiday, leaving children at risk of going hungry for half the summer break.
Labour is calling on the Government to set-up cash transfers for free school meals ensuring families get the full value of this support and enabling parents to buy the food and supplies that are right for their children.
Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:
“The Conservatives have failed to support families throughout this pandemic and are now reliant on local councils to plug gaps in free school meals support throughout the holidays.
“Feeding children is not a half-time activity. Labour is calling on the Conservatives to trust parents with the money for free school meals so they can buy the food and supplies their children need throughout the whole of the holidays.”
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“No child in 2021 should be coming to school too hungry to learn, but food insecurity is a blight across our country. This latest research shows it is only getting worse. It confirms the reports by our members that learning impeded hunger is facing many children in our country.
Last year, the public outcry around Free School Meal (FSM) provision, and the Government’s heartless refusal to ensure every child had enough to eat, forced the Prime Minister into a making a series of U-turns on his policy. However, this year we shouldn't have to wait for the footballer, Marcus Rashford to make the Government see sense if it means running the risk that hundreds of thousands of children and young people could go hungry over the half term and summer holidays.
Over 400,000 children growing up in families with such low incomes they are reliant on FSM does not sound like a country ‘levelling up’. We urge Government to act immediately to ensure that no child misses a meal during the school holidays, and to do everything in its power to tackle the social injustices that push so many families into poverty across the UK.”
302,400 children became eligible for free school meals between the first national COVID-19 lockdown from 23rd March – 1st October 2020. Labour analysis of FOI responses estimate 115,654 children became eligible for free school meals from 1st October – 1st January 2021.
Combining this data estimates that from 23rd March – 31st December 2020 418,054 children became eligible for free school meals, equivalent to 10,348 per week. Applying this across the year from March 2020 – March 21 this would suggest 549,472 could have become eligible for free school meals by March 2021.
The Government’s Holiday Activities and Food Programme proposes local authorities provide support for four days a week across 4 weeks of the summer holiday – equivalent to just 16 of 30 week days.
The government has said the Covid Local Grant funding can be used to provide free school meals support for children, including over the May half-term, but the guidance for the grant states that it: “is not intended to replicate or replace free school meals and authorities should avoid duplicating provision where possible.”
Free school meals: Autumn 2020
30 Mar 2021: Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, responding to government data showing that nearly 200,000 children became eligible for free school meals between January and October last year, said:
“This huge rise in eligibility for free school meals shows just how devastating this pandemic has been for family budgets.
“Four in five schools were using the national free school meal voucher scheme at the start of the month. Yet Ministers are scrapping this in favour of a scheme that will provide food support for just four days over Easter and create a postcode lottery in provision.
“The Government should be guaranteeing free school meals support to all who need it including through cash payments, rather than allowing children to go hungry over another school holiday.
Government data released today (30 March 2021) shows that in October 2020, 1.63 million pupils were eligible for free school meals (19.7% of all pupils) – an increase of nearly 200,000 pupils since January 2020, when 1.44 million (17.3%) pupils were eligible for free school meals.
The national voucher scheme has been closed since schools in England reopened on 8th March and is not set to be revived for future school holidays.
Guidance on the Holiday Activities and Food Programme 2021 states that the Programme should be available for children eligible for free school meals: “for the equivalent of at least 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, 6 weeks a year. This would cover 4 weeks in the summer and a week’s worth of provision in each of the Easter and Christmas holidays in 2021.”
Children will be out of school on holiday for a further 12 weeks this year but under the proposed structure of the scheme would only receive free school meals and activities for half this time.
Neither the HAPF nor the Covid Winter Grant Scheme guidance directly encourage free school meals be delivered to all eligible children. The Covid Winter Grant Scheme guidance states: “A3. The COVID Winter Grant Scheme is not intended to replicate or replace free school meals and authorities should avoid duplicating provision where possible”.
Statistics on free school meals in schools in England as collected in the October 2020 school census.
This release contains statistics on free school meals, including:
- the number of pupils eligible at October 2020
- free school meals provision at Friday 5 March 2021
Published 30 March 2021