UK

‘Liz Truss must act’: Politicians from all parties back our campaign to expand free school meals

Top politicians from all parties have backed The Independent’s Feed the Future campaign to extend free school meals to all children in poverty and end the hunger crisis they face.

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London mayor Sadiq Khan is among the senior figures pledging support for our joint campaign with the Food Foundation and a coalition of campaigning organisations calling on Liz Truss to extend free school meals to all children in England living in households on universal credit.

The Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and senior Labour and Conservative MPs also backed the call to widen support to the 800,000 children not able to get free school meals because their family’s income, excluding benefits, is over £7,400 a year after tax.

Earlier this week, a joint investigation by The Independent and Evening Standard found that some desperate pupils are stealing food from local supermarkets and the school canteen to stave off hunger.

The campaign has also received overwhelming support from the public. More than 200,000 people have now signed our petition – with more than 40,000 added in a single day – and thousands of readers have written to their MPs.

Mr Khan told The Independent: “As the cost of living crisis worsens, many families will be increasingly wondering how they’ll be able to keep putting food on the table. That’s why I welcome the Feed the Future campaign.”

The London mayor said expanding free school meals would save families hundreds of pounds a year, as well ensuring “all schoolchildren are eating a healthy, nutritious meal at school and eliminating the stigma associated with being eligible for free school meals”.

Former Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, ex-Tory health minister Lord Bethell and senior Tory MP Robert Halfon have all urged the government to consider expanding free school meals.

It comes as a study by PwC, which we exclusively reported on earlier this week, showed that the cost of extending free school meals to all those in poverty is outweighed by the health and attainment gains. The accounting firm reported a net benefit to the economy of £2.4bn over 20 years.

Tory peer Lord Bethell told The Independent that “the economic case for extending free school meals is becoming overwhelming”.

He added: “These kids do better at school and therefore contribute more to the economy. And their long-term health costs will be reduced. It’s not a just question of morality, it’s a question of economic good sense.”

Senior Labour MP Stephen Timms, chair of the work and pensions select committee, said he also “strongly supports” the call to expand free school meals to all those on universal credit.

The MP for East Ham said his local council in Newham had already made free school meals available to all primary school pupils. “I have seen the benefits of this policy over many years, with children assured of at least one proper meal each day – and better able to learn as a result,” he said.

Munira Wilson MP, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson, said too many children were “bearing the brunt” of the cost of living crisis and their education was suffering as a result.

“No child should be going hungry in the UK today. The case for extending free school meals to all children on universal credit is clear, and the government must do it today,” she said.

Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party, said expanding free school meals was a “no-brainer”. She added: “We cannot be considered a civilised and fair society when young people in their desperation steal food from shops and canteens because they are so hungry.”

Mr Gove backed calls to extend free school meals to all children from families on universal credit at the Tory party conference last week – saying it would be “more than worthwhile”.

Mr Halfon, the chair of the education select committee, told The Independent that extending support to families on universal credit was one of three options he wanted Ms Truss to consider.

Xural.com

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