Free school meals. Over a fifth of school-age children in the UK are eligible for them, and this number is up from previous years.
They help relieve pressure on families to pay for food, especially if there are multiple children in the household; this is even more relevant during this Cost of Living crisis we are in the middle of. There are arguments to suggest access to free school meals could have a knock-on effect of reducing stress in children as they wouldn’t see their parents struggle or stress as much to provide food for them. Free school meals also help children to stay healthy and learn during school hours, since a lack of food can cause concentration and retainment issues as the body is not receiving the nutrients it needs to function.
I have always been on free school meals, and find that not having to spend money on food at school is extremely helpful in relieving the pressure on my family’s income. Getting a healthy meal is accessible and it gives me comfort to know there is always something available. On the other hand, it is true that there is a lot of stigma attached to free school meals, having even found myself (who is not particularly subconscious of my household income) hesitant to say that I am on free school meals because it can feel isolating to be different or simply embarrassing. However, friends of mine agree that free school meals are very helpful and would like for them to be available to everyone.
I think all young people should care about introducing free school meals for everyone. It is genuinely helpful, and not only affects people’s productivity, but relationships and health as well. Every individual should attempt to care for their peers, as well as their family (since free school meals also help in this regard, as mentioned). Even if some people may not be desperate for the help, if we can normalise this scheme and broaden the criteria (as right now it only includes those under benefits, excluding other extenuating circumstances and low-income households that are above the maximum in the criteria) to include more people, then free school meals could change the lives of many more people for the better. Ideally, I would love for a hot, hearty meal to be accessible to everyone with minimal or no cost during school hours. This would get rid of any feeling of isolation between those that get free school meals and those who currently do not as well, helping to destigmatise it.
A lot of people don’t fit the strict criteria for free school meals, meaning they miss out on lunch and/or struggle more with money and stress due to the extra expenses. And “around 25% of those who are eligible do not take up their entitlement, affecting over 300,000 children”. This shocking fact is why we must all act to ensure that these children aren’t forgotten about, taking the steps I mentioned before. Free school meals are for everyone!
It is imperative that young people get involved in bringing forward the movement for universal free school meals, as this will ensure it is flagged for action by our government. Additionally, I believe young people should be heavily involved in the process of rolling free school meals out since it affects us directly. It should be monitored by the very people who need it, as only they will know if it is working or not.
Free school meals are for everyone; support our #FoodForLearning campaign today!