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LACA urges political parties to address unfair school food funding

06 Feb 2024
The leading school meal industry body, LACA, is calling on political parties to include increased funding for school lunches in their manifestoes ahead of general election this year.

It says the current system is unsustainable, with food prices having risen 20% or more over the last two years, different levels of funding in parts of the country and pressure falling on schools and parents to pick up the shortfall.

As a result, the organisation says that its members are calling for all political parties to commit to a minimum funding level of £3 a meal (index linked) in their general election manifestoes.

LACA says the funding will support increased food and ingredient costs and increases to the UK Living Wage and so ensure children and young people continue to receive the ‘very best school food to support their growth and learning’.

LACA has surveyed school meal providers servicing 7,880 schools across England and Wales found that two thirds in England say lack of funding (which needs to cover both food and staff costs) is adding pressure on schools to provide extra finances.

As a result, access to school meals for all children (including those who receive free school meals) is in jeopardy as school meal providers are pushing to meet the mandatory School Food Standards, but at the cost of schools, and of the parents who pay for meals.

It points out that ‘stark differences’ in Government funding for free school meals across the UK mean that children in England are missing out on funding for their school lunch in comparison to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London, which receive significantly more government funding.

In England, schools, and the families who pay for meals, are increasingly having to bridge the gap by either subsidising from other school budgets or through increased selling prices.

LACA says that this impacts the education of all pupils and directly affects those families who are ‘just about managing’ but do not qualify for free school meal support.

LACA’s membership survey also revealed almost 80% of respondents reporting they will be reducing the frequency with which meat is used in meals, with 39% replacing meat with less expensive protein sources.

Further, 86% of respondents had had to adjust recipes to ensure they continued to meet the mandatory school food standards for a two-course lunchtime meal.

Over two thirds of respondents (66%) said they won’t be able to maintain the current standards of school meals within the next three months if prices continue to increase at the current rate.

On average, the selling price of a meal is forecast to be 20% higher from April 2024 compared to March 2020, which has a direct impact on families.