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