Who introduced free school meals and when did they start in UK?

FREE school meals are something we take for granted in the modern age – but there has been a long history of the provision.

We look at the history of free school meals and the person behind its introduction in the 20th century.

Who introduced free school meals in the UK?

Before 1870, it was not compulsory for all children to attend school.

But when all kids were required to go to school, thousands of poor children went to school hungry.

But nursery school pioneer Margaret McMillan, who lobbied for the Provision of Meals bill, argued that if education was compulsory then the state should provide meals.

If you were lucky enough to go to school in the early 20th century then you could expect porridge, bread with dripping and a glass of milk. Mmm, tasty.

Things did get better during the twenties and thirties as British classics began to be introduced.

When did free school meals start?

School dinners first became a topic for the national agenda in 1906.

The Provision of Meals Act was eventually passed into law that year.

The specific aim of the bill was to give free school meals to all children – bur very few local authorities enacted the bill.

In 1921, criteria were set regarding which children were able to have school meals, but was still not implemented by schools.

A survey carried out in 1936 found that in 26 Local Education Authorities where unemployment was above 25%, less than 15,000 children were receiving meals.

It was not until 1944 that laws were passed which required all local authorities to provide free nutritious meals for school children.

Who is entitled to free school meals in the UK?

According to the Government website, children may be eligible for school meals if parents are on a range of benefits.

At the time of writing (January 2021), this includes Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance, Child Tax Credit and under certain criteria, Universal Credit.

Children may also be eligible for support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999

Your child may also get free school meals if you get any of these benefits and your child is both younger than the compulsory age for starting school and in full-time education.

If your child is eligible for free school meals, they’ll remain eligible until they finish the phase of schooling (primary or secondary) they’re in on 31 March 31, 2022.

How do I apply for free school lunches for my kids?

The process for applying for free school meals varies from council to council.

In some cases, you apply through your local authority and in others you might need to apply directly to the school – but your council website will tell you this.

If you’re not sure of your local council, you can use this tool to find out.

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