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Free School Meal eligibility in Wales

February 24th 2021

The aim of our project is to further our understanding of the cost of extending the eligibility criteria for Free School Meals and the impact it would have on families’ financial resilience.

Summary of project and Project Aims

Two children eating school lunchChildren who receive Free School Meals are guaranteed one healthy, nutritious meal a day during term time benefitting both their health and their education. Action taken by the Welsh Government in response to the Covid 19 pandemic has seen these benefits expanded into the holiday period, providing vital extra support to thousands of children and their families across Wales.

Whilst undertaking research on the role of the Welsh Benefits System in lifting children out poverty the Bevan Foundation uncovered that thousands of families miss out on Free School Meals despite living in poverty. To be eligible for Free School Meals a child’s family must either receive one of a series of legacy benefits (e.g. Job Seekers Allowance) or Universal Credit. A child whose family receive Universal Credit but who earn more than £7,400 a year through paid work is not eligible for Free School Meals, however.  Recent research by the Child Poverty Action Group suggests that as many as 70,000 children in Wales who are living in poverty may be missing out of Free School Meals as a result of this.

As a result of this research the Bevan Foundation has called on the Welsh Government to expand the eligibility criteria for Free School Meals so that all children who live in households that receive Universal Credit are eligible. Whilst we are clear that expanding eligibility would offer significant benefits to families in Wales there is still some uncertainty as to what would be the cost of expanding eligibility and what will be the impact on families.

To address these gaps in our knowledge the Bevan Foundation has partnered with Policy in Practice. Through this work we will seek to address two key questions:

  • What would be the cost of extending Free School Meals eligibility to all children whose families are in receipt of Universal Credit or to make Free School Meals universally available?
  • What would be the impact on financial resilience of extending Free School Meal eligibility? This could be in the longer term to inform other work on associated health outcomes and savings over the longer term.

To complement this research the Bevan Foundation is looking to work with a local authority in Wales to gain a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities extending eligibility might present local authorities.

Duration

February 2021 to May 2021

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