Reader’s Letter: Levelling up – how about providing free school meals?

Reader’s Letter: Levelling up – how about providing free school meals?

by Charlotte Ndupuechi.

“Levelling up? What better way than to provide free school meals. 

With this week‘s big PR push from the government about the so-called levelling up agenda, this got me thinking. 

Child poverty continues to rise with 4.3 million children now living in poverty in the U.K. That’s 1 in 3. 

School dinners are now £2.95 per day, in my local primary school in Southampton. So that’s £14.75 a week for one child. Of course if you have more than one child this cost will multiply. 

The incredibly high threshold for free school meals means that working families with a very basic income are not entitled to them, despite not being able to cover the costs.  To qualify for free school meals household on universal credit in England must earn “less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including benefits)” Gov.U.K. 

We know that eating a healthy, well balanced diet is key to good health and essential for children to grow and develop. Schools meals can play a big part in this. 

“To promote healthy eating in schools, it’s vital to encourage children to eat a wide-ranging, nutrient-rich diet from an early age. School meals should be at the very heart of this process. They are often the only opportunity for a child to consume a variety of fresh ingredients. And they are an important weapon in the fight against childhood obesity.”

It’s difficult to provide a healthy well balanced pack lunch that can sit in a school bag for hours before being eaten, that travels well, and does not require any refrigeration or reheating as schools are simply unable to provide these facilities. 

“Children who take a packed lunch into school are at a greater risk of not getting sufficient nutrients compared to classmates who have a school meal,”  said Dr Charlotte Evans, School of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Leeds.

We know school meals are not perfect, and there is still a lot of work to be done. Most weeks there are a few options that my children don’t want, but I do try to encourage them to have as many as possible. As the price rises this is more of an issue and I’m more likely to swap a school meal for a pack lunch. 

UNICEF warns of the dangers of food swamps, dominated by an abundance of high-calorie, low-nutrient processed food: “In the UK, 1 in 3 children are now overweight or obese when they leave school with children from poor areas twice as likely to be obese. The prevalence of so-called “food swamps”, particularly in deprived areas, is making it increasingly difficult for children to access healthy food.”

And there is the environmental impact of all the single use packaging that goes into a lot of packed lunches. A packet of crisps, a yoghurt, a snack bar; these all add to the massive amount of single use plastic we produce each year and could dramatically be reduce if children were given free school meals. 

We know that access to healthy food can improve educational outcomes as it helps children to focus and concentrate. We know that food is linked to mood and mental health. There are countless reports, papers and articles on the benefits of free school meals and eating a healthy diet. Not to mention the benefit to the economy it could have by putting money back into the pockets of parents. 

So why aren’t the government acting on this? It seems a very simple, cost effective, and impactful way to level up, if that’s want they really want to do.

You can sign this open letter to support the campaign: click here


  • We hope you enjoy our website. In Common is not for profit. We rely on donations from readers to keep the site running. Could you help to support us for as little as 25p a week? Please help us to carry on offering independent grass roots media. Visit: