Jamie Oliver calls for more free school meals as survey suggests voter support

Jamie Oliver has called for child health to be put above politics as a survey suggested the majority of both Conservative and Labour voters are in favour of extending free school meals to more children in England.

The celebrity chef, who has long campaigned on child food and nutrition issues, insisted it is “time to prioritise our children’s health”.

Oliver’s comments came as free school meals were rolled out to all primary-aged pupils in state-funded schools in London for the 2023/24 academic year.

Making the announcement earlier this year, the capital’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who received free school meals as a child, said he was “determined to do all I can to help and know from personal experience what a lifeline free school meals can be”.

Currently nationwide only some children qualify for free school meals, including those whose parents are on Universal Credit with a household income of less than £7,400 a year.

Oliver is one of the backers of the Feed the Future campaign, which was launched to address the issues of food insecurity for families and is led by a coalition of organisations including the National Education Union and Save the Children.

The campaign is calling on both the Conservative and Labour parties to commit to nationally expanding the eligibility for free school meals to all children in England.

Research for the School Food Review group – a coalition of 30 organisations including charities, educational bodies, unions and academics – found that 82% of prospective Labour voters and more than half of prospective Conservative voters (53%) are in favour of extending free school meals immediately to all children ​from families ​receiving Universal Credit, followed by a future expansion to all pupils.

The survey of 3,011 members of the public across England at the end of June and beginning of July found that almost three quarters of all respondents (71%) believe the current income threshold is inadequate or should not exist at all.

Oliver said: “It’s great to see that voters across all parties want to put child health first. This reflects what I’m hearing across all my social channels – it’s time to prioritise our children’s health.

“We know that nourishing young minds with nutritious food is an investment in their future, boosts our economy and our health.

“Sadiq Khan has recognised this by giving all primary school children a free school meal and now we need politicians across all parties to put child health above politics and act now.”

The polling suggested almost two thirds (65%) of prospective Labour voters would be more likely to vote for the party if they committed to extending free school meals to all children on Universal Credit immediately and to all children in primary and secondary education in future.

In this case almost a quarter (23%) of 2019 Conservative voters and 18% of those who intend to vote Conservative said they would be more likely to switch to Labour, the research suggested.

A Government spokesperson said: “Over a third of pupils in England now receive free school meals in education settings, compared with one in six in 2010 and we have extended eligibility several times to more groups of children than any other government over the past half a century.

“This includes introducing new eligibility criteria for families receiving Universal Credit, to ensure even more children were eligible for a free school meal.

“We’re providing record financial support worth an average £3,300 per household. We have also raised benefits in line with inflation, increased the National Living Wage and are helping households with food, energy and other essential costs.”