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As schools across England continue to provide free school meals to all children in reception class, year 1, and year 2, regardless of their household income, a former Conservative minister, Steve Brine, has raised concerns about the growing funding gap between the cost of providing these meals and the funding received from the government. Schools in Mr Brine’s constituency have reported that the funding is no longer sufficient to cover the cost, and the situation is becoming increasingly unsustainable.


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The Issue

According to Mr Brine, a number of headteachers in his area have reported a concerning trend: the funding they receive for providing free school meals to infant age children is falling short of the actual cost. The issue is particularly pressing given the already-stretched budgets of many schools. In response to this gap, some schools are reportedly subsidizing the cost, which is not a sustainable long-term solution. The extra cost of approximately £3,000 a year to the school’s budget may be due to the lack of a competitive market in the field of providing school meals. Mr Brine has suggested that one possible solution could be to investigate how to make the market for providing school meals more competitive.

Industry Response

James Bielby, chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, has highlighted several factors that have contributed to the growing funding gap. For example, energy price inflation and labor shortages have put a strain on the industry. While the per-pupil meal rate for Universal Infant Free School Meals was raised from £2.34 to £2.41 in 2022, this increase is inadequate to keep up with long-term inflation or the recent spike in the cost of servicing local authority contracts. Some regional distributors have already signaled that they may not be able to tender for future school catering contracts without a significant increase in government funding for universal infant free school meals.
Meanwhile, Andy Kemp, group executive director at Bidfood UK, one of the largest food suppliers to schools, has warned that some contractors and local authorities are withdrawing from the provision of school food altogether and instead offering just a basic sandwich service to those children eligible for free school meals, which is an inadequate response to the growing funding gap.


As the Westminster Hall debate on this issue approaches, it is crucial to address this growing funding gap for infant free school meals. All children deserve access to nutritious meals, regardless of their household income. Finding solutions to ensure that schools receive adequate funding for providing free school meals is a pressing matter that requires urgent attention.

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Hi I'm Oliver Smith, I would say that I take great pride in my work as a journalist and strive to produce high-quality, impactful stories that make a difference. With more than eight years of experience under my belt, I am passionate about uncovering the truth and shining a light on issues that matter.


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