Barnardo’s CEO Lynn Perry MBE, Michelle and young people who have been supported by the charity, will hand in the petition to Number 10 at midday on Thursday 2 March.
More than one in four children in the UK are living in poverty, and the cost-of-living crisis is making this worse as families struggle to pay their bills.
Scotland and Wales have already committed to providing free meals for primary school children and are gradually rolling this out. Barnardo’s wants to ensure those in England aren’t left behind. While children in reception, Years one and two, receive free meals in England, older primary school pupils are currently only eligible to receive them if their families have total earnings below £7,400 per year. This leaves around 800,000 children who are living in poverty but do not qualify for free school meals.
The charity says free school meals for all primary aged children would mean that every child would get at least one nutritious and filling meal a day, whatever they are facing at home. It would also relieve stress and anxiety for children at mealtimes and relieve pressure for families living in poverty. The provision of free school meals has been shown to reduce obesity and improve attainment at school.
"I feel free school meals are so important for a lot of young people, when I was little I relied on free school meals massivly, my mam couldnt afford to give me packed lunches or afford to give me money for lunch. It used to get to me seeing all my friends in school getting pizza slices and bacon sandwiches for snack at break time, I couldn't as I only had a certain amount to afford my dinner, I wouldn't want to think about if I didn't even have the £1.50 for my dinner, pretending your not hungry in school while all your friends are eating was something I don't want any child going through." - Inspire Youth staff member.