The Faculty of Public Health has led a coalition of health organisations and charities in publishing a major new report “The Health of the Next Generation – Good Food For Children” which - launching today at a special event at the House of Lords - calls on Government to protect the health and productivity of our next generation by expanding access to the Free School Meal Programme, National School Breakfast Programme, and the Healthy Start Voucher scheme.
Most important of the report’s recommendations is a call for the Government to adopt universal school meal provision for all primary and secondary school children in England.
The report follows a letter sent to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in February of last year led by the Faculty of Public Health, signed by over 30 MPs and 20 members of the House of Lords, which called for urgent action to tackle food poverty and help support a healthy population and productive economy.
Professor Kevin Fenton, President of the Faculty of Public Health said
“As a broad coalition of public health and medical professionals we are deeply concerned about the long-term health impacts facing our nation’s children as vulnerable families across the UK struggle to access nutritious food.
By providing universal access to Free School Meals and expanding access to other existing programmes, our leaders in Parliament have the opportunity to support a generation of children to lead healthy, happy, and productive lives.
Conversely, evidence shows us that the poor physical and mental health caused by childhood food insecurity creates a poor foundation for future health, and these children are more likely to experience health issues and lower levels of productivity into adulthood.
We face a critical turning point for the health of our next generation – we must take action now.”
- Adopt universal school meal provision for all primary and secondary school children to improve the next generation's diet, health, and educational attainment. If a stepped approach is necessary, we recommend introducing universal provision of school meals to primary school children and then expanding the programme to secondary school children.
- Implement sufficient monitoring and enforcement to ensure all food provided in schools meets the School Food Standards so the full benefits of a school meal are realised.
- Any new programme should be accompanied by a full evaluation of the impact on health, education, and socioeconomic inequality across a child’s lifetime.
- Before enacting universal school lunch provision, enable the auto-enrolment process for Free School Meals to ensure eligible children receive what they are entitled to, and schools receive the pupil premium payments they need to support children from disadvantaged households.
- Long-term funding for the NSBP should be confirmed well before the current programme end date of July 2024 to allow schools and families to plan long-term and remove anxiety for families regarding future planning.
- Monitor and enforce school food standards within the NSBP to ensure good nutritional quality and maximise the programme's benefit.
- Expand the NSBP so that all schools meeting the Department of Education’s criteria participate, ensuring that the programme has the most impact.
- Remove the variance of value and purchasing power of Healthy Start vouchers to provide consistency for parents by extending the £8.50 weekly value to eligible children until age five and increasing the value annually in line with inflation.
- Extend eligibility to all children living in households receiving Universal Credit to provide additional fruit and vegetable consumption for children most at risk of eating below the recommended 5-a-day minimum.
- Increase uptake by raising public awareness and ensuring the application process is accessible and straightforward; consider auto-enrolment or an opt-out process to increase uptake.
- Commission further research: particularly looking at the cost-effectiveness of a universal programme and increasing the monetary value.
- Ensure the programme is provided to all children seeking asylum in a simple and accessible way that does not impact asylum claims.