16 Oct 2020

BDA Chief Executive Andy Burman is among a wide range of signatories to a letter to the Education Secretary and Minister for Children and Families sent today (16th October).

We call for government to commit to funding benefits-related free school meals during the autumn half-term and Christmas holiday periods, including children from households with no recourse to public funds.

This follows the latest intervention by Marcus Rashford MBE for action by government to address food poverty and holiday hunger. You can sign Marcus's petition on ending food poverty here

Until now, government has rejected calls for further support on the basis that school meals are "normally" only provided during term-time. We would argue that 2020 has not by any measure been a "normal" year.

At the most basic level, we don't believe that government should knowledgeably allow children of any age to go hungry when we have the ability to provide support. Longer term it is clear that action is needed to address the reasons why any children are going hungry. 

Read the full letter below or download ut by clicking 'Resource Download' on the left.

The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP
Secretary of State for Education
The Rt Hon Vicky Ford MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families Friday 16 October 2020

We write to you with a matter of urgency regarding the ongoing provision of healthy food to vulnerable children from households experiencing low and unpredictable incomes, including those whose situation has worsened as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 emergency.

Prior to Covid-19, an estimated 4.2 million children were living in poverty in the UK, equivalent to nine children in every classroom of 30(1- references, see below). In total, 600,000 more children are in relative poverty compared to 2012. According to the Food Foundation, 14% of parents and guardians living with children have experienced food insecurity in the last six months. There are four million people living in these affected households including 2.3 million children. This remains higher than pre-Covid-19 levels of 11.5% of households with children2.

The most recent figures indicate that eligibility for free school meals had already risen from 1.3 million to 1.44 million children in England, based on the January 2020 census3. By July 2020, over 5 million people were still furloughed, the rate of redundancy had risen to 4.1% (highest level since 2009)4, and 5.6 million people were on Universal Credit5. A recent ACAS/YouGov polling revealed that around a third of UK businesses are planning to make some staff redundant6. The Trussell Trust forecasts a 61% increase in need for food parcels between October and December compared to the same period last year, with families with children hardest hit.7

We believe that funding should be available to ensure that support for vulnerable children is provided over holiday periods during normal times. If your stated opposition to the extension of free school meals during the holidays is that they are normally only provided during term-time, then we would seek to emphasise that 2020 has not been a normal year. With cases of coronavirus once again on the rise, and local lockdowns now being enforced, the situation for many families experiencing food insecurity is worsening. The arrival of autumn and winter also bringsbincreased heating and lighting costs, putting household food budgets under even further pressure. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Health Secretary Matt Hancock have warned that the current situation is likely to remain difficult until at least Christmas.

Will this Government therefore commit to funding benefits-related free school meals during the autumn half-term and Christmas holiday periods, including children from households with no recourse to public funds?

We recommend a top-up grant be distributed via local authorities (or directly to schools and academy trusts) to cover the respective autumn half-term and Christmas holiday periods. The grant would be allocated according to free school meal registration and the funds could be converted into food hampers, supermarket vouchers or cash support payments for families.

By committing to this measure now, it would provide schools and local authorities with time to plan their provision in consultation with their existing caterers, local partners and eligible families.

We look forward to your reply,

Barbara Crowther, Coordinator, Children’s Food Campaign
Stephanie Slater, Founder/CEO, School Food Matters and Co-Chair School Food Plan Alliance
Anna Taylor OBE, Executive Director, Food Foundation
Naomi Duncan, Chief Executive, Chefs in Schools
James Toop, CEO, BiteBack2030
Rob Percival, Head of Policy, Soil Association’s Food for Life
Becca Lyon, Head of Child Poverty, Save the Children
Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive, Sustain
Peter McGrath, Operational Director, Meals and More
Clara Widdison, Head of Social Inclusion, Mayor’s Fund for London
Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research, The Children’s Society
Jonathan Pauling, Chief Executive, Alexandra Rose Charity
Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard, Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement, Greater London Authority
Andrew Forsey, National Director, Feeding Britain
Paul Wright, Founding Member, Children’s First Alliance
Dr Helen Crawley, Director, First Steps Nutrition Trust
Dr Matthew Philpott, Executive Director, Health Equalities Group
Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretaries, National Education Union
Hilary Croft, CEO, Coeliac UK
Mary McGrath, CEO, FoodCycle
Sarah Hickey, Director of the Childhood Obesity Programme, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity
Lindsay Boswell, CEO, FareShare
Mark Game, CEO, The Bread and Butter Thing
Dr Maria Bryant, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Association for the Study of Obesity
Professor Graham MacGregor, Chair, Action on Salt and Action on Sugar
Andy Burman, CEO, British Dietetic Association
Eddie Crouch, Chair, British Dental Association
Sabine Goodwin, Coordinator, Independent Food Aid Network
Sally Bunday MBE, Director/ Founder, Hyperactive Children's Support Group
Prof Amelia Lake, Associate Director of Fuse, The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health and Professor of Public Health Nutrition, Teesside University
Jon Richards, Head of Education, UNISON
Anna Feuchtwang, Chair of the End Child Poverty Coalition and Chief Executive of the NCB
Melissa Green, General Secretary, The Women’s Institute
Alex Cunningham, CEO, Magic Breakfast
Councillor Judith Blake, Chair of the Children and young people's board, LGA Labour Group
Councillor Julie Fallon, Deputy Chair of Children and Young People Board, LGA Independent Group Councillor
Lucy Nethsingha, Children & Young People Spokesperson, LGA Liberal Democrat Group


  1. Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). (2020). Calculated from: Households Below Average Income, Statistics on the number and percentage of people living in low income households for financial years 1994/95 to 2018/19, Department for Work and Pensions, 2020 
  2. Food Foundation data calculated from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2309 parents or guardians living with children under 18 years. Fieldwork between 24 August and 1 September 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults aged 18+. Population Calculations made by the Food Foundation using mid-year population estimates available on request.
  3. UK Government. Schools, pupils and their characteristics, Academic Year 2019/2020. (2020).
  4. Labour market overview, UK: September 2020
  5. Universal Credit Statistics: 29 April 2013 to 9 July 2020

  6. More than a third of UK employers planning to make staff redundant
  7. New report reveals how coronavirus has affected food bank use