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Child food poverty doubles in a year

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

A new survey from The Food Foundation found that the number of households where children are experiencing “food insecurity” has nearly doubled in the past year.

The foundation’s Food Insecurity Tracker found that in January 2023, 21.6% of households with children reported that their kids had directly experienced food insecurity in the past month, affecting an estimated 3.7 million children. This is nearly double the percentage (11.6%) who said the same thing in January 2022.

The Food Foundation says the cost-of-living crisis is having a devastating impact on children across the country, particularly those in low-income households and those at risk of food insecurity.

This affects every aspect of their life from education, to their friendships and social development, to their physical and mental health.

For example, in households with children who had experienced food insecurity in the past month, 78% reported being worried about the impact of being unable to afford sufficient food on their children’s physical health and 76% on their mental health.

The Food Foundation says there is strong public support for the government to take action to help children be able to eat well.

Expanding free school meals

A national MRP poll, commissioned by the foundation, showed overwhelming support for the expansion of free school meals, with eight out of 10 (80%) people in England supporting calls for the government to expand the provision of free school meals to all children in households receiving Universal Credit.

Currently there are approximately 800,000 children in England who do not qualify for free school meals despite living in poverty.

The Food Foundation says expanding free meals to all those on Universal Credit would be an effective and targeted way of ensuring these children do not miss out on a hot, nutritious meal at school.

Eligibility criteria

At present, children in England are subjected to the strictest eligibility criteria for free school means out of all the devolved nations in the UK. Northern Ireland’s income threshold for eligibility for free school meals is almost twice as high as in England (£14,000 annual earnings compared with £7,400 in England).

Scotland and Wales are both in the process of rolling out free school meals to all children in primary school regardless of income.

Last week, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced that he too will be expanding free school meals to all children in primary school in London as a one year emergency measure.

The Food Foundation says that while this is a very welcome announcement, it is a move that further increases regional inequalities in England.