Will Free School Meals be made available to all pupils in 2023?

May 16, 2023 editor

According to the latest data from the Department for Education, the total number of children in the UK receiving free school meals is approximately 2.38 million. However, this may vary depending on how many children actually take up their entitlement.

There are several benefits of free school meals for children, families and society. Some of them are:

  • Free school meals can help reduce food insecurity and poverty for low-income families by saving them money on food costs.
  • Free school meals can help improve health and nutrition for children by providing them with a balanced and nutritious meal each day, which can prevent obesity and other health problems.
  • Free school meals can help enhance educational outcomes for children by improving their concentration, behaviour, attendance and attainment in school, which can lead to higher lifetime earnings and contributions
  • Free school meals can help boost the school food economy by creating jobs, supporting local suppliers and increasing the demand for quality food products.

The answer to the title question depends on which part of the UK you are in and which year group your child is in.

  • In England, all children in reception, year one and year two are guaranteed a free lunch as part of the universal infant free school meals scheme. Additionally, your child may be able to get free school meals if you or they receive certain benefits. Furthermore, all primary school pupils in London are to get free school meals in the 2023/24 academic year as part of a scheme announced by the mayor Sadiq Khan.
  • In Wales, your child may be able to get free school meals if you receive certain benefits. The Welsh government also provides funding for local authorities to offer free breakfasts in primary schools.
  • In Scotland, all children in primary one to primary four are entitled to a free school lunch. From August 2022, this will be extended to include children in primary five. Your child may also be eligible for free school meals if you receive certain benefits.
  • In Northern Ireland, your child may be able to get free school meals if you receive certain benefits or if your child has a statement of special educational needs.

The government's plans to extend free school meals vary across the UK and depend on different factors. Here is a summary of what I found:

- In England, the government has refused to extend free school meals for children during the half-term and Christmas holidays, despite pressure from campaigners, opposition parties and some Tory MPs. The government argues that it has provided other forms of support for low-income families, such as increasing Universal Credit and giving £63m to local authorities. However, some councils and businesses have stepped in to offer free meals to children in need.
- In Scotland, the government has extended universal free school lunches to children in P4 and P5 since the SNP retained power in the May 2021 election, saving families an average of £400 a year. However, their timetable to include P6 and P7 children in their plans by August 2022 has been quietly dropped. The government also provides £100 payments for each child eligible for free school meals during the winter, spring and summer holidays.
- In Wales, the government has committed to provide free school meals for all primary school pupils by 2024, beginning with Reception pupils this September. The government also provides £19.50 per week for each eligible child during the school holidays.
- In Northern Ireland, the government has not announced any plans to extend free school meals beyond the current eligibility criteria. However, it has provided food parcels and direct payments to families of eligible children during the school closures and holidays due to the pandemic.