Expanding Free School Meals could inject up to £41.3bn into the economy, reveals new research from Impact on Urban Health. The research explores two potential expansion scenarios and finds a positive return on investment for both.
- Universal Credit – expanding free school meals to all children in England from households receiving Universal Credit.
For every £1 invested, £1.38 would be returned, through social, health and educational benefits, resulting in £8.9bn in core benefits. A further £16.3bn of indirect benefits could come through wider economic and supply chain gains, such as growing the school food economy through expansion of school catering employment opportunities, resulting in £25.2bn total potential benefits.
- Universal Free School Meals – expanding free school meals to all children in state-funded education settings in England.
For every £1 invested, £1.71 would be returned, resulting in £41.3bn in core benefits. A further £58.2bn of indirect benefits could arise, resulting in £99.5bn of total potential benefits.
At a time when the Government anchors its agenda in driving economic growth and as families battle the cost-of-living crisis, the research quantifies for the first time the economic benefits of expanding free school provision in England over a 20-year period (2025-2045). To urgently address the issues of food insecurity for families and to tap into the economic growth opportunity, a new campaign – Feed the Future – is calling on the Government to expand the eligibility of free school meals to all children from households receiving Universal Credit.
The benefits of introducing free school meals have long been proven. Children who eat healthy, free school meals have lower obesity rates, better academic performance and behaviour and improved lifetime productivity2. However, 800,000 children living in poverty are still not currently eligible.
The new analysis, commissioned by Impact on Urban Health and conducted by PwC, helps to inform the evidence base relating to future free school meal provision. It measures the gains against two core benefit areas: education and employment and health and nutrition, as well as the wider benefits to the school food economy. It sets out where the £41.3bn of gains from Universal Free School Meals scenario would come from:
- £22.5 billion in reduced food costs for families
- £18.5 billion in lifetime earnings and contributions – thanks to enhanced educational attainment and reduced absenteeism
- £12 million in cost savings relating to childhood obesity
- £0.3bn in cost savings for schools
The Feed the Future campaign wants to see a transformational policy shift to first of all provide free school meals to all children in households on Universal Credit. This should be a first step towards a longer-term commitment to Universal Free School Meals. The campaign is being backed by celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver, Tom Kerridge and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. It is calling on the general public to Write to your MP
The Food Foundation have also released a new survey showing the huge support for extending Free School Meals in the general public. When asked about responsibility for helping children impacted by food poverty, 87% of the English public believe that the Government has a lot or some responsibility for helping children. They were also asked if they supported the expansion of free school meals eligibility to all school children in England from households in receipt of Universal Credit. Again, there was strong support, regardless of political persuasion, with 72% of the English public supporting the expansion of Free School Meals to these children.
Kieron Boyle, CEO of Impact on Urban Health commented: “At a time when the Government is looking for ways to drive growth, this ground-breaking research shows that investing in expanding Free School Meals is a cost-effective way to drive economic growth and create a healthier society. It provides more than enough evidence for a transformational policy shift in school food and together with our partners, including the School Food Review coalition, we urge the Government to take this opportunity to create a more equitable school food system so more children are healthier and given the best chance in life.”
Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation added: “The cost-of-living crisis is having an awful impact on children with many going hungry and not getting the nutrition they need to grow up healthily. This is being seen by people across the country and our findings released today clearly demonstrate that the public believe that the Government needs to do more to help these children. We strongly urge the Government to listen and urgently act to ensure that our children in need are guaranteed at least one nutritious meal a day at school.”
Alongside their calls for Government, the campaigners are also urging the public to write to their MP and demand free school meals are expanded to all children whose families are receiving Universal Credit.