Pupils share food with classmates amid cost of living crisis

Poll for the NEU finds 37% of children know someone who 'sometimes does not have enough food to eat at lunch'

Poll for the NEU finds 37% of children know someone who 'sometimes does not have enough food to eat at lunch'

school dinners

More than a third of primary school pupils have a classmate who sometimes does not have enough food to eat, and over a quarter report sharing food with friends several times a month, according to a new poll.

Research agency Survation polled 1,500 children and 1,500 adults on behalf of the National Education Union and its ‘No child left behind’ campaign, which seeks among other things the extension of universal free school meals to all primary pupils.

Of the children polled, 37 per cent said they knew someone at school who “sometimes does not have enough food to eat at lunch”.

Asked how often they had to share food with someone at school because they did not have enough money, 21 per cent said they did so two to three times a month, while 7 per cent said they did so at least four times a month.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak claimed earlier this month that the cost of living crisis was “starting to ease”, as government prepared to give a final £299 support payment to eight million people on means-tested benefits.

Inflation has fallen from its peak in 2022, but remains at 4 per cent, and food price inflation is higher, at around 7 per cent. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, 29 per cent of all UK children live in poverty.

The NEU’s polling found 56 per cent of parents said they were “just about managing and have had to cut back on expenses”, while 14 per cent said they were “struggling to afford basic needs”. Four per cent reported having to go without basic needs or relying on borrowing.

School lunch debt and smaller lunchboxes

Thirty-six per cent reported cutting back on children’s out-of-school activities, while a fifth said they had skipped meals so their children could eat. Thirteen per cent said they relied on food banks.

Fourteen per cent said they had racked up school lunch debt, while 33 per cent said they had put less food or less healthy food in their children’s lunchbox.

Daniel Kebede, the NEU’s general secretary, said it was “simply tone deaf for this government to claim that the cost-of-living crisis is easing when so many parents of all incomes are cutting back on food”.

The findings come a year after the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced funding to extend universal free school meals to all primary pupils in the capital. But schools have been left to make up a shortfall in funding in the scheme’s first year.

Khan recently announced a one-year extension, but funding beyond that remains uncertain.

The NEU wants Khan’s approach mirrored in the rest of England, and Kebede said the chancellor Jeremy Hunt “has three weeks to decide if he is serious about young people”.

“When he steps up to the despatch box for the spring budget, he needs to tell the country that free school meals should be available to every child in every primary school in England, not just London.”

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