In her capacity as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon has welcomed Labour's announcement on free school meals for all primary school children, and said:
“Lunchtime can often be an overlooked part of the school day; which can continue to ignore the growing problem in society where more and more children are going to school hungry and are unprepared to learn because they do not have the nutrients in them to fuel their bodies and minds.
“Many of those children must wait until lunchtime to get their free school meal, whilst some will not at all and will instead pay for their meals or opt for packed lunches which have been proven to lack any nutritional value to support a child’s learning. This policy allows for all children to reap the educational, behavioural and health benefits which come from having a hot and healthy school meal.
“Universalism is a proud tradition of the Labour Party and it is welcome that school food provision will now be a part of that important approach, continuing the important work the last Labour Government did when we introduced the universal free school meal pilots in Durham and Newham and had a fully-costed plan to roll this out to other areas post-2010, which was sadly scrapped by the incoming Tory-led Coalition Government.
“This policy will not only allow those children who are already on free school meals to see the stigma associated with these meals eradicated, but also the two thirds of children living in poverty who are actually in working households, known as the working poor, who will benefit from free school meals when they couldn’t before because they were just above the thresholds, and all other children who will benefit from access to a healthy meal that will aid their learning and help complement the whole school approach to food that has been pushed for since the publication of the School Food Plan.
“This policy announcement provides us with the space to continue our concerted campaigning for other improvements including access to breakfast clubs which have been shown to be the most beneficial intervention to support a child’s education, child holiday hunger which was first identified 111 years ago and unmet can reverse the many positive interventions seen throughout the school year, and wider household food insecurity which is a growing issue in society. This policy announcement is to be strongly welcomed.”
Notes to Editors:
Sharon has been the Chair of the School Food APPG for 7 years, and has campaigned on universal free school meals for over 10 years.
This has included being an integral part in pushing for the universal free school meal pilots in Durham and Newham in 2009, playing a key role in influencing the School Food Plan which recommended universal free school meals when the funding could be found in 2013, and then in 2015, to save Universal Infant Free School Meals when they were under-threat by the then Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan MP, in the lead-up to the 2015 Autumn Statement and Comprehensive Spending Review, when Sharon got the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, to commit at the Despatch Box to protect this policy for the duration of the Parliament.
You can read more about Sharon’s campaigning journey and some of the work she has been doing on this issue, by reading these two speeches from 2010 and 2015:
Recent research by St Mary's University showed that using free school meals as a poverty indicator may not be the most accurate measure of children in poverty, as two-thirds of children living in poverty come from families with at least one parent working; therefore they are not eligible for free school meals however, this policy would be most helpful to the children of the working poor in particular as it would allow those children who do not meet the current eligibility to take advantage of free school meals. Further info available here.