The provision of free school meals (FSM) can make a drastic difference to a child’s life, helping them to stay in education and reach their full potential. Yet, from a school’s perspective, providing this service can pose several challenges.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Marcus Rashford’s #EndChildPoverty campaign highlighted a growing demand for free school meals, but the issue of food poverty runs much deeper than this.
Food insecurity affects many families, and the problem is only growing. In fact, the latest research by the Food Foundation revealed that in the six months between October 2021 and April 2022, 1 in 5 households with children experienced food insecurity.
One report has shown that there is around £65 million in unspent school meal funds each year, and this money is not finding its way back to the individual pupils entitled to it.
Data published by Statista has also revealed approximately 2.17 million people used a food bank in the UK. Meanwhile, the Trussell Trust has reported a 128% increase in the number of emergency food parcels distributed each year, between 2015 and 2021.
According to the research carried out by the Food Foundation, household food insecurity has increased 60% since the beginning of the pandemic between March and August 2020. Worryingly, food insecurity in households with children remains higher than in households without children - a difference of more than 5%.
In response to this growing problem, an independent report titled National Food Strategy was published in July 2021 with a series of recommendations, including extending eligibility for free school meals by increasing the earnings threshold from £7,400 to £20,000.
With economic uncertainty ahead, issues around earnings and income are not going away any time soon, and for schools, the long-term challenges will be around managing and distributing FSM effectively.
Subsidised food distribution is a well-recognised way of tackling food poverty on a global scale. It is a key social security measure in reducing food deprivation. On a local as well as national level, this applies to food poverty in the UK too. And it isn’t just a problem caused by COVID-19.
For schools, distributing free school meals effectively requires that they keep track of those pupils eligible for them, so that no one falls through this safety net.
But there’s more to managing FSM than distribution. Another major issue is what happens to unspent FSM allowances on a day by day basis.
The effective management of FSM distribution should also include accurate tracking and reporting to ensure that no one misses out on unspent free school meal allowances.
Many current school catering systems will simply write off any unused allowance each day. The cumulative figure for this is around £65 million a year. This equates to over 21 million individual meal allowances.
This is an important, and often overlooked, aspect of free school meal provision.
It’s an unintended consequence of the system, but it’s also one that schools can rectify, with the right financial management and point of sale software tools. By tracking payments and spending more effectively, schools could ensure that pupils maximise this daily allowance, keeping it in pupils’ meal accounts.
This is where Pebble’s financial management and point of sale software can help. It’s not just about helping schools. It’s about supporting pupils, to ensure those who need to access free school meals aren’t missing out through unspent funds.
At Pebble, we specialise in helping schools manage their income, and, by doing this, helping pupils too.
We believe that schools have a vital role to play in combating food poverty, and we can provide the right tools to help them do this.
Using our Tali software, schools can create an automated, integrated financial management system that keeps track of payments and allowances, and helps them maximise the benefits of free school meals.
But we also know that effective financial management has to include point of sale too, where pupils interact financially on an individual level with a school’s systems.
The answer? Till.
Till enables your school catering system to roll over its unspent FSM allowances and keep every penny that a pupil hasn’t spent in their account.
Free school meals should support pupils who are disadvantaged, and, by extension, support their families too. The more schools can maximise FSM, the more they are supporting the fight against food poverty.
For more details about our Tali and Till software, please contact the Pebble Team today.
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