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Jamie Oliver calls for free school meals to be extended across England

Jamie Oliver has called for free school meals to be extended across England after their universal rollout in London state-funded primary schools for the new academic year.

The celebrity chef and longstanding child nutrition campaigner insisted it was “time to prioritise our children’s health” and for it to be “put above politics”.

His comments came as state-funded primary schools prepared to rollout free school meals for all pupils for the 2023/24 academic year.

A survey suggested that the majority of both Conservative and Labour voters are in favour of extending free school meals to more children in England.

Only some children nationwide currently qualify for free school meals, including those whose parents are on universal credit or whose household income is less than £7,400 a year.

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 53% of prospective Conservative voters were 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 71% of all respondents believe the current income threshold is inadequate or should not exist at all.

Oliver is one of the backers of the Feed the Future campaign, which is calling for a cross-party commitment to expand eligibility for free school meals to all children in England. It is backed by a coalition of organisations including the National Education Union and Save the Children.

Oliver said: “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 that 65% of prospective Labour voters would be more likely to vote for the party if it committed to extending free school meals, while 23% of 2019 Conservative voters and 18% of those who intend to vote Conservative said they would consider switching to Labour as a result.

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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.”

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