Teachers across the UK have joined TV-personality and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in his call for free school meals for all children in households on universal credit. Adding momentum to Oliver’s recent campaign, teacher organisations have written to the prime minister to approve the new rule which would bring free school meals to an additional 800,000 of the most vulnerable children.
The letter, as reported by the BBC, has been signed by leaders of 12 unions and groups representing up to a million teaching staff, school trustees and governors across the country. It explains to the prime minister, the chancellor and the education secretary that “too many families” who need it are not eligible for free school meals, and that “hunger is now a real issue in our schools”.
Jamie Oliver has long campaigned for better access to free school meals for children in the UK. The chef has campaigned for groups like Feed The Future, who has backed the teachers’ letter.
In a recent interview with BBC Radio 4, Oliver said: "The reality is, if you speak to the best minds in economics, in the country, in the world, they will tell you that if you output healthier kids, you’re going to have a more productive, more profitable country. We know in every way, shape and form that kids who have a decent lunch and breakfast learn better, their educational attainment is better... but no-one’s taken it seriously yet."
About 1.9 million children are eligible for free school meals in England, which is 22.5% of all pupils according to the government. While all infant-schools provide free school meals for their pupils, children in Year 3 or above must live in a household with an annual income of £7,400 or less and on income related benefits.
This means that about 40% of households claiming universal credit and who have low-income jobs earn more than that annually and therefore won’t qualify for free school meals for their children. In Northern Ireland, the minimum threshold is nearly double at £14,000 annually, while Scotland and Wales recently committed to offering all primary school pupils free school meals.
A government official has told BBC News: "We understand that families are facing cost pressures due to international events driving up inflation and global energy prices. This is why we are providing over £37bn to help households with the greatest need.
"We have also expanded access to free school meals more than any other government in recent decades, which currently reaches 1.9 million children, and our national school breakfast programme supports schools by providing free breakfasts to children in schools in disadvantaged areas."