In light of cost-of-living pressures, it is important we do all we can to support each other and our communities across Mid Sussex. This is especially true when it comes to supporting the most vulnerable in our society.
To this end, I have been in close communication with my colleagues in the Department for Education on the subject of free school meals and I am pleased to provide you with the latest update.
Over a third of pupils in England currently receive free school meals in education settings and the Government announced a further investment in the National School Breakfast Programme (NSBP), extending the programme for another year until July 2024, backed by up to £30 million. This benefits over 2,000 schools across the country. Family Action estimates that 270,000 children are currently receiving breakfast from the NSBP on an average school day.
The Department spends over £1 billion each year on free school meals, including through the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme and school breakfast clubs. This includes around £600 million on Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM). The Government funds over £200 million a year on HAF, which provides healthy meals and holiday club places to children from low-income families. Last summer, the HAF programme reached around 600,000 children across England, including over 475,000 children eligible for free school meals.
In June 2022, the Government allocated £18 million of additional funding for UIFSM to help schools provide for the 1.25 million children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 with a free, healthy and nutritious lunch, in recognition of the rising cost of living.
As announced in the Autumn Statement, for those who require extra support, the Government is providing an additional £1 billion to help with the cost of household essentials, for the 2023-24 financial year, on top of what has already been provided since October 2021, bringing total funding for this support to £2.5 billion.
Ultimately, I believe it is imperative that our children have regular, healthy and balanced meals throughout the day to ensure they are able to thrive in the classroom. The Government is also keenly aware of the impact that the cost-of-living crisis is having on families across the country and is taking the necessary steps to ensure that children who are in need of school meals are able to access them.