Food poverty is on the rise in the UK. The effects of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis are still being felt by many, and the result paints a bleak picture for many families struggling to put food on the table.
In fact, a recent YouGov survey by the Food Foundation found that, in June 2023, a staggering 17% of households in the UK were classed as ‘food insecure’, a term they define as a household that ate less or went a day without eating due to lack of access or an inability to afford food.
The survey presents the latest look at a trend that has continued over the past few years. Since the second half of 2021, food prices have been increasing, with data from the Office for National Statistics revealing that the price of food and non-alcoholic drinks were 19.1% higher in the 12 months to March 2023. This is the highest increase since 1977.
The impact that this is having is being felt across the board. The ONS found that more than half of adults in Great Britain (56%) reported an increase in their cost of living in July and August 2023 compared with the month before - 97% of whom saw the price of their food shopping go up.
All of this means that the support that schools provide for families struggling to provide food has never been more important. In fact, in England alone, nearly a quarter of state funded pupils (23.8%) are now eligible to access Free School Meals. Data shows that the eligibility rate has increased sharply since 2018, and has now reached the highest rate recorded since 2006.
According to a research briefing published by the House of Commons, the reasons behind the increase are multiple, and could include economic conditions, the pandemic, and the continued effect of the transitional process put in place during the rollout of Universal Credit.
Whatever the cause, the effect is undeniable, and schools play a vital role in ensuring that children are provided with a healthy meal during the school day.
So how do schools combat food poverty? In this article, we take a look at the challenges schools and academy trusts face in helping to tackle the effects of food poverty, and what they can do to overcome these obstacles.
Today, schools and academies across the UK receive government funding, via their local authority, for each child entitled to Free School Meals (FSM).
Currently, the value of this funding sits at £1,455 per infant child and £1,035 per secondary child, which amounts to roughly £2.41 per academic day. This fund can then be accessed by eligible pupils to purchase a meal during the school day.
However, if the pupil doesn’t spend that allowance on that particular day, it is not uncommon for the money to be withdrawn, with some catering systems simply writing off any unused allowances at the end of each day.
This means that if a meal is not claimed each and every day, children could be missing out on funds for food later down the line. 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.
Unfortunately, claiming FSM can be a complicated process, and one that can differ depending upon the pupil’s age and area within the UK in which you live.
It often involves form-filling, meetings and extended periods of waiting, and any change in circumstances in the meantime can mean parents have to start the whole process again.
All of this can make it difficult for parents to register a claim, while simultaneously providing schools with a complex and timely process to administer. What’s more, for schools there is the added pressure of missing out on the valuable Pupil Premium funding for as long as the process is delayed, or if parents are put off registering in the first place.
Pupils should be given the freedom to choose how they spend the funds allocated to them, and be able to roll over their FSM allowance to spend on breakfast, a healthy snack or something to take home at the end of the day.
Pebble’s Point of Sale system Till and financial management tool Tali work together to track each pupil’s FSM allowance and roll it over where necessary, ensuring no pupil is left without the funding they’re entitled to.
Pebble’s Free School Meal Eligibility Checker registers all parents and carers using a link to a simple online form. Once the parent or carer has completed the form, they’re quickly notified about their entitlements, without the need for paper evidence or attending meetings in person.
At the same time, the app reduces the administrative burden on schools by informing them of the pupil’s eligibility and helps prevent errors in providing free school meals and ensures all entitled pupil premium funding is claimed.
The Pebble system checks eligibility against a government database every few days, and should circumstances change and the parent becomes eligible to claim FSM, this transfers to their child automatically.
By removing the need for face-to-face meetings, the app also helps reduce the stigma surrounding FSM.
The same applies to Pebble’s Till platform. By preserving anonymity and streamlining the process, Till helps protect pupils from the stigma that can surround FSM in secondary schools. The system provides a cashless point of sale for school meals, where all pupils simply use a QR code regardless of FSM status
These are just some of the ways technology offers highly practical applications in schools and trusts.
For more information about how Pebble can support your school in fighting food poverty, speak to a member of the team today.
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