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NEU poll finds parents believe PM should extend free school meals to all primary pupils

22 Feb 2024
A new poll from the National Education Union (NEU) has found 88% of parents/carers outside of London stated their support for the UK Government to extend universal free school meals to all primary schoolchildren in England.

A new poll conducted by Survation on behalf of the NEU’s No Child Left Behind campaign, compared the experiences of 1,500 parents and 1,500 children (1,000 of each in England and 500 in London).

It found that 52% of struggling parents/carers in England are cutting back on their food shop due to increasing costs. Since the start of this school year, 45% of parents reported cutting down on red meat, 38% on fresh fruit and 32% on fish.

The picture is worse across England than in London. Since the start of this school year, only four in ten (41%) parents in London have had to cut back on the food shop, compared to more than five in ten (54%) across England. One in three (33%) parents/carers who are struggling with food costs report having less food or less healthy food in their children’s lunchbox.  

The research also found that almost four in ten (37%) children know someone at school who sometimes does not have enough food to eat. Three in ten (28%) pupils report sharing food at least two or three times a month with hungry peers.  

Campaigners are united in their demand to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to commit to extending free school meals to the 4.6 million children in state primary schools in England – as London, Wales and Scotland have done. The last chance to do so before an election is looming in the Spring Budget on 6th March.  

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the NEU, commented: “It is simply tone deaf for this Government to claim that the cost-of-living crisis is easing when so many parents of all incomes are cutting back on food. 

“The Chancellor has three weeks to decide if he is serious about young people. When he steps up to the despatch box for the Spring Budget, he needs to tell the country that free school meals should be available to every child in every primary school in England, not just London.  

“We have seen an immediate impact from the introduction of free school meals in London. Children are more engaged, are thriving in school, and it has taken welcome pressure off parents who are trying to make ends meet. Jeremy Hunt must do the right thing and ensure free school meals for all.”

In London, where free school meals have now been rolled out to all year groups in state primary schools, the impact has been noticeable. Over half (54%) of London parents said the scheme has improved the variety in their children's diet and 78% reported family budgets easing somewhat or significantly due to the free school meals extension.    

A London parent said: “I would have had to start funding my child's lunches as he will be going into Year three - I had no idea where this money would come from so was extremely relieved when the extension to free school meals was announced.”