Opening the Forest School at Noel Park Primary
Opening the Forest School at Noel Park Primary

According to the boss of Bidfood, a catering supplier for schools, soaring food inflation could force schools to choose between using cheaper ingredients or reducing lunchtime food portions. This is absolutely shocking.

What’s worse, the Tory Government has failed to provide schools with enough money for school meals – cash for free school meals for all young children in the first three years of primary school has only increased by 4p to £2.34 a meal since the allocation was introduced in 2014. In 8 years, schools have received an increase of only 4p per meal. How on earth does the Government expect schools to provide healthy and nutritious meals to school children if don’t provide enough money?

When I was Council Leader, I introduced free school meals for all primary school children in Islington. I’m really proud of this policy and I believe it made such a difference for families in the borough. Our schools are part of the community and these meals provide an opportunity for children to sit down to eat and have meaningful conversations with adults, as well as a nutritionally balanced, hot meal.  It improves concentration, learning and health.

Fast forward to 2022, we know that this Tory cost-of-living crisis is a disaster for so many families – my constituents have told me they are resorting to only heating one room at a time, parents are skipping meals so that their children can eat and families are having to forgo basic essentials such as clothes and shoes so they can pay the bills.

Last month, I attended a briefing about school meals for children affected by the No Recourse to Public Funds policy. What struck me the most is how the Tory agenda is having such an awful impact on children. Children should not bear the consequences of Tory incompetence and cruelty. I am so happy that the Government has now decided that these children will continue to have access to free school meals.

I have spoken to local schools in my constituency and the rise in supplier costs is a deep concern for them. We know that free school meals is an essential part of a child’s academic and social development. Sadly amidst this cost-of-living crisis, school dinners can be the only hot meal for children – this is why schools are so reluctant to reduce the portions. My colleague Stephen Morgan MP, Shadow Minister for Schools, agrees: “Nutritious school food is the fuel children need to achieve and thrive. But soaring inflation compounded by Conservative tax hikes, Universal Credit cuts and an energy crisis is creating a perfect storm for families, schools and businesses”

I have now submitted the following Written Parliamentary Questions:

  • To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions has he had with schools in England in regard to the impact of inflation on school meals
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Education, will he consider increasing the cash for free school meals in primary schools, currently priced at £2.34 per meal
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment has he made of the impact of reducing free school meal portions on the development of school children
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has plans to amend the eligibility criteria for free school meals in the context of the increases in the cost of living.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Education, why has the cash funding for free school meals not increased every year in line with inflation, since the scheme was introduced in 2014

I will continue to urge the Government to listen to parents and teachers and respond to the urgent funding gaps in schools across the country, and especially in my constituency. Please do get in touch with my office if you would like to share your views on this important issue.

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