Tesco chairman John Allan urged ministers to give free school meals to all children in households receiving Universal Credit to fire up the economy and improve children’s life chances.
Last November, as food prices rose and a cold winter loomed, businesses joined school leaders and NGOs to implore the Government to safeguard the health, wellbeing and futures of the nation’s children through a targeted investment with exponential returns: the extension of free school meals support to all children living in poverty.
Businesses serving customers at the frontlines of the cost of living crisis saw a need to take urgent action on behalf of the children and families we serve.
Extending free school meal support is much more than an emergency measure in difficult times. It’s an investment in the potential of every single child and their futures.
By making sure every young person has a nutritious meal we level the playing field, so that school becomes a place where all pupils have what they need to thrive and do well.
For all of the talk in last week’s Budget statement about strengthening our workforce and levelling up, the Government missed one of the most logical and cost-effective investments it can make in the health and wellbeing of our future workforce; extending free school meal support to all families in receipt of Universal Credit.
At £7,400 per household, the current free school meals threshold is shockingly low and hasn’t adjusted as the cost of living has soared.
As a result, there are over 800,000 young people living in households making just above that threshold who are unable to access a nutritious meal at school.
Improving young people’s employability skills and kick-starting their careers is a cornerstone of a successful business.
It’s astounding that before they even get a chance to begin their careers with us, hundreds of thousands of young people living in poverty are being held back by a policy failure that denies them their most basic right: access to a nutritious and sustaining meal in school.
A growing body of evidence and testimony from young people themselves uncovered by the youth-led movement, Bite Back 2030, points to the positive impact access to nutritious food can have on academic performance.
One study found increased access to healthy school food results in higher test scores in English and Science as well as lower absence rates.
It’s hardly surprising that giving children the sustenance they need and removing anxiety about how they’ll afford enough food to last the day frees them to focus on achieving their potential.
A recent poll found 80% of the public supports the extension of support, and for those that wish to monetise this basic right of children, research from PwC found for every £1 invested in extending free school meals, £1.38 would be returned into the economy resulting in £8.9bn in core social, health and educational benefits.
The case for action is overwhelmingly popular. It seems like an economic, political and moral no brainer. In a political landscape where these are hard to come by, I hope the Government will recognise this opportunity.TIOB News