Voters in key seats demand Government extends Free School Meals nationally as child food poverty doubles in a year

New data released today from The Food Foundation shows that the number of households where children cannot access enough nutritious food has nearly doubled in the past year. In January 2023, 21.6% of households with children reported that their children had directly experienced food insecurity in the past month, affecting an estimated 3.7 million children1. This is compared with 11.6% in January 20222.

These findings come alongside the first national modelling of support for Free School Meals expansion across England’s parliamentary constituencies, which shows overwhelming support for Government action.

Detailed polling, published today by The Food Foundation, shows overwhelming support for expansion of access to Free School Meals (FSM), as families suffer the worst cost of living crisis for generations holding them back from accessing the healthy food children need to thrive.

The data from a national sample of 8,000 respondents, show eight out of ten people in England (80%) now support the Government providing Free School Meals for children in households receiving Universal Credit3 When the public were surveyed in October 2022, there was 72% support for expansion of Free School Meals4. Support for the policy is high in a raft of key marginal seats at risk of being lost by the Conservatives in the next election, and in constituencies held by the Prime Minister and his most senior cabinet ministers.

Expanding Free School Meals nationwide, which has been the basis of the Feed the Future campaign, has been made even more urgent following the Labour Mayor of London’s announcement last week that he will be funding Free School Meals for all primary schoolchildren in the capital as a one-year emergency measure from September 2023.5

The London initiative puts further pressure on national Government to honour its levelling up commitment, given the postcode lottery of access to Free School Meals between London and the rest of England where the eligibility annual household income threshold remains at £7,400 (after tax, excluding benefits).

England also lags far behind the devolved nations. Scotland and Wales are rolling out Universal Free School Meals in primary schools, and in Northern Ireland the income threshold is double that of England (£14,000).

Key findings:

  • Strong support for Free School Meal expansion in constituencies represented by Rishi Sunak, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab, Steve Baker and Matt Vickers, where around 80% of voters say they want to see more children helped3.
  • Similar calls for policy change in areas held by Jacob Rees-Mogg (82% support), Penny Mordaunt (80% support), and numerous Conservative ‘red wall’ seats, some held by MPs with wafer-thin majorities3.
  • New You Gov* data showed 21.6% of households with children reported that their children had directly experienced food insecurity (see note below for definition) in January 2023, compared to 11.6% in January 20221.

 

Detailed analysis:

Rishi Sunak

Prime Minister

Richmond constituency North Yorkshire

Local voter support for FSM: 76%3

Local children living in poverty: 20%6

 

Jeremy Hunt

Chancellor of the Exchequer

Southwest Surrey

Local voter support for FSM: 82%3

Local children living in poverty: 15%6

 

Matt Vickers

Vice-chair Conservative Party

Stockton South

Local voter support for FSM: 81%3

Local children living in poverty: 32%6

 

Steve Baker

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Wycombe

Local voter support for FSM: 82%3

Local children living in poverty: 31%6

 

Dominic Raab

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Esher & Walton

Local voter support for FSM: 82%3

Local children living in poverty: 14%6

 

“We have been tracking these trends for some time,” said The Food Foundation’s Executive Director Anna Taylor, “and the levels of food insecurity among children continue to be terribly concerning, and point to big holes in the Government’s safety net” “These latest findings now show the public is overwhelmingly in favour of greater Government support for the millions of families suffering the worst effects of the cost-of-living crisis. By extending Free School Meals to more children in England in the next budget, the Government could deliver a policy change that is popular with voters, targeted and timely, and truly delivers on levelling up.”

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