FWD’s Final Word: School runnings

As the cost of living problems intensify, wholesalers are struggling to manage legacy budgets to continue providing school meals

What’s all this about?

As the new school year started last month, you may have seen stark headlines saying hunger will be the single biggest challenge schools would face as children returned to classrooms, amid warnings that 800,000 children living in poverty in England do not qualify for free school meals.

How does that affect us?

Children who are properly fed and hydrated retain information and learn more effectively and a healthy, nutritional lunch in the early years helps them to choose healthier options wholesalers, it’s becoming more and more difficult to fulfil fixed-price contracts and maintain that vital service.

Why’s that?

When Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) were introduced in all primary schools in England in 2013, the government set the value of a meal at £2.30. Nearly a decade later, it’s £2.41. We don’t need to tell you what’s happened to price inflation in that time. The money for UIFSM is paid to schools directly, but it doesn’t all find its way to the caterer. Some gets used for other school budgets.


Right, and our wholesalers don’t just supply the food, they offer recipe and menu advice, nutritional information, allergens support and help implementing government nutritional standards. So a lack of public investment makes things very tight indeed. Some of our members supplying and supporting schools are having to offer reduced menus or lower-quality food, even supplying at a loss as they can’t pass on costs under existing contracts and, of course, they can’t withdraw this vital service either.

So what do you need?

We’re asking the government for a real inflationary increase in funding for school meals and to ringfence the UIFSM allowance purely for catering. We’d like to see quarterly price reviews to allow contract price increases more regularly, particularly in view of the constant inflation we’re experiencing. And new contracts that include entirely laudable stipulations for local sourcing and use of SME suppliers just aren’t going to be fulfilled in the current climate.

Anything else?

The Scottish government is already extending free meals to those who need them in junior schools and the Welsh Assembly is looking at it too. It’s not only for commercial reasons that we’d like to see that in England too, although with the correct funding it would certainly help. It’s more than that. As many households struggle to make ends meet, free school meals provide a workable solution to a basic human need and right, which we need to protect.

cost of living crisis FWD Government schools Scottish government Universal Infant Free School Meals Welsh Assembly