Warning over school meal price rises

School dinnersWith the new school term now in sight, research by consumer group Which? has found that the price of school meals is rising in two thirds of schools across England. The price of a school dinner has risen by an average of 2.5%, with the highest rise the 25% set by Bolton.
The survey gathered information from 101 local councils in England and found that while a the majority of school meal price rises are below the rate of inflation, some councils have increased prices by far more. In Doncaster, prices are up 17%, while in Lewisham in London the rise is 14%.

That takes the price of a school dinner in Doncaster to £2 a day and in Lewisham to £1.60. In Bolton, although the 25% rise is the largest, dinners remain the cheapest in the country at £1.25. The most expensive school dinner is offered in Poole, where the average price is £2.50.

Further rises

These rising costs could lead to further rises if they mean fewer children opt for school dinners. Catering advisors estimate that, in order for costs to be kept down, 55% of schoolchildren in any given school need to take them. Which?'s research revealed just 45% of pupils in England currently do.

Problems for school meals provision are compounded because the School Dinner Grant, established to subsidise school meals, is no longer ring-fenced which means hard-pressed local authorities can dip into it to fund other areas of spending.

Richard Lloyd, the executive director of Which?, said: "School meals in most areas are still a relatively low cost and low hassle way to provide a decent lunch for your children. But if schools cannot find ways to protect the extra funding that has gone to school meals and increase the number of children taking them up, there's a risk of even more price hikes or a drop in standards."

Decent nutrition

There's plenty of evidence to back the claim that school meals are the main source of decent nutrition in a significant number of families. So it is right to be concerned about the effect that rising prices and a potential fall in standards could have.

And in June this year a coalition of senior doctors and nurses raised concern over the effects of the abolition of free school meals for half a million kids from low-income families, saying that: "Only 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards for school meals".

Which? found many parents prefer to give their children packed lunches, saying they are cheaper and that the kids prefer them. There's an issue here not just over the price of school meals, but the price of food in general, our attitudes to nutritional and the value we place on a school meals service that has already been outsourced to for-profit companies.

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