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29 October 2020updated 25 Jul 2021 11:16am

Polling: Majority of public want government to pay for free school meals in holidays

Exclusive polling for the New Statesman reveals most people support free school meals for children in the holidays – including Tory voters.

By Anoosh Chakelian

A majority of people believe the government should provide free school meals over the Christmas holiday, according to new polling for the New Statesman.

Sixty per cent of people think the government should pay to feed children eligible for free school meals over the upcoming Christmas break, according to exclusive polling by Redfield and Wilton Strategies. Only 25 per cent said the government should not do this, and 15 per cent of respondents said they didn’t know.

There is even a clear majority in favour of funding food for pupils over holidays among right-leaning voters. People who voted Conservative at the 2019 general election are more likely to support free school meals during holidays, with 45 per cent urging the government to feed children over Christmas, compared with 38 per cent who say it should not. Seventy-six per cent of Labour voters were in favour (with 16 per cent against), along with 71 per cent of Liberal Democrats (16 per cent against) and 66 per cent of SNP supporters (14 per cent against). Among Brexit Party voters, 55 per cent were in favour and 26 per cent opposed. 

See also: Holiday hunger isn’t just for one summer – children go without food every year​

The polling was conducted on 28 October as debate over the issue of free school meals remained intense. Government ministers are still refusing to provide food vouchers for families whose children have gone hungry over the current half-term break. This is despite a previous U-turn on the issue, which led the government to offer food vouchers over this year’s summer holiday.

A campaign led by footballer Marcus Rashford and supported by opposition parties, businesses, charities and many councils – including some Tory ones – continues to put pressure on the government, as schools and local organisations intervene to feed pupils over this week’s half term.

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See also: The new political football​

The £63m hardship fund ministers have cited in favour of their position is pure spin: this emergency grant was in reality divided up between councils at the beginning of July to spend by the beginning of October, with specific instructions to “avoid duplicating” it with school meal voucher provision.

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Even when people believe the government’s insistence that it has provided local councils with extra money to tackle hardship, there is no majority for its stance on free school meals: just 42 per cent think therefore it should be a council responsibility, while 37 per cent think the government has provided local councils with extra money to tackle hardship in the community but still has a separate responsibility to fund free school meals in the holidays.

See also: By refusing to extend free school meals, the government exposes its warped idea of poverty​