The reopening of schools, post-Covid, has created many new challenges for school leaders. However, it has also brought existing issues back to the fore, one of which is the provision of free school meals (FSM).
Marcus Rashford’s #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign has highlighted the growing demand for free school meals throughout the pandemic, but the issue of food poverty runs much deeper than this.
Food insecurity affects many families, and free school meals should be a way of supporting them. In 2017, UNICEF reported that 10% of children in the UK were living in households impacted by severe food insecurity issues.
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.
So why is this important?
In September 2020, the Trussell Trust forecast a 61% increase in the need for food parcels across the UK during the pandemic.
At the start of the pandemic, around half of the people using food banks had not used one before. Those hardest hit have been families with children.
Data from the Food Foundation shows that the demand for free school meals is rising, with 29% of children aged eight to 17 registered for FSM. That’s around 2.2 million. Over 800,000 of these are newly registered.
64% of these newly registered children are from households where the main earner is in a higher income occupation.
This shows how food poverty is spreading beyond households with lower income earners, and is a reflection of the broader impact COVID-19 has had on the economy.
The combined effects of lockdown, furlough and business closures are clearly making an impact.
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.
Why Food Distribution Matters
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.
What Maximising FSM Should Mean
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.
Fighting Food Poverty with Technology
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.
This is where Till comes in. Till will enable 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 they can maximise FSM, the more the school is 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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