Written evidence submitted by Bite Back 2030


About Bite Back 2030

Bite Back 2030 is a youth-led movement campaigning to transform the food system to put child health first. That means healthy schools, healthy screens and healthy streets for every child, no matter where they live. We have 100 incredible young campaigners based across the UK, alongside 3,000 young people from 250 schools and youth clubs who are engaged through our School and Community Food Champions programmes.


Our young people have been recognised for their campaigning work with a number of awards including the Diana Legacy Award for 2021, finalist of the International Children’s Peace Prize and the Third Sector Awards. The BBC named former Youth Board Chair Christina Adane as one the 100 most influential women of 2020 for her Free School Meal campaigns with Bite Back.


Our reason for submitting evidence

Many of the young people at Bite Back 2030 have personal experience of receiving free school meals and are hugely supportive of this policy. In 2020 we campaigned to extend provision during the school holidays and our petition, led by young campaigner Christina Adane, received almost half a million petition signatures.


Since 2021 and the ongoing cost of living crisis, we have been calling for an urgent extension of free school meal eligibility to all children in households in receipt of Universal Credit (or equivalent benefits). The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in 2022 estimated there are 800,000 children in England who qualify as living in poverty but do not meet the very low threshold required to qualify for a free school meal at lunch. In January 2022, Bite Back Youth Board members handed in over 250,000 signatures supporting the expansion of free school meals to Number 10, and they have been met with an abundance of support in person and online.


Bite Back 2030 is also a member of the School Food Review Working Group, which was set up in 2021 by leading practitioners, frontline teams and campaigners working to improve school food across the country. 


Our submission

Our submission focuses on the question: The impact of school breakfast clubs and free school meals on improving attendance for disadvantaged pupils.


Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up healthy and reach their full educational potential. Access to adequate nutrition is a key part of that and sets children up to be able to learn at school. Schools are a very effective environment for ensuring children can access and enjoy delicious and nutritious food that supports their health and wellbeing. Right now this is more important than ever as more and more families are struggling with the cost of living crisis.


“I’ve been on free school meals my whole life and can tell you how much of a difference it makes to my health and happiness. At lunchtime, I’m relieved to know I’ll have a hot meal waiting for me and will have the energy and nutrition to keep me going in school.” Bite Back Youth Board member, 15


Free school meals provide children with a guaranteed hot, nutritious meal at lunchtime. But the policy can also deliver many other benefits, help pupils engage in learning and help to improve academic attainment and school attendance. We are also supportive of school breakfast schemes, which help ensure children don’t start their school day hungry.


A peer review conducted in 2021 by Cohen et al looked at studies conducted in several OECD countries and found that while the evidence is mixed, provision of free breakfasts and free school meals were associated with increased attendance. Several studies documented significant improvements specifically among lower-income and/or food insecure groups.[1] One possible explanation is that pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds are motivated to attend school to access the food available. Another is that access to nutritious school meals may help protect them from illness, again improving attendance.


Young people are the ones who really know what’s going on in their lives! And yet theirs is a seldom heard voice in conversations about school. At Bite Back 2030, we’re working to change that; we call on the Education Committee to seek testimony directly from young people.


“Without good food, it’s harder for us to stay healthy, concentrate in school, and perform in our exams — even when we’re working our absolute hardest. It’s not fair that so many young people are put in this position. Free school meals is a policy that is all about young people - yet our voices are often excluded from the discussion.” Bite Back Youth Board member, 18


January 2023


[1] Cohen JFWet al. Universal School Meals and Associations with Student Participation, Attendance, Academic Performance, Diet Quality, Food Security, and Body Mass Index: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2021 Mar 11;13(3):911.