Written evidence from Magic Breakfast (CPM0040)


  1. Magic Breakfast is a registered charity supporting schools in areas of disadvantage to ensure children at risk of hunger have access to a healthy breakfast, without barrier or stigma, at the start of the school day. The charity is working with over 1,000 partner schools in England and Scotland, offering nutritious food to around 170,000 children, alongside expert support to staff to help ensure there is no pupil sitting in morning lessons too hungry to learn. Magic Breakfast also delivers the Department for Education’s National School Breakfast Programme in England, in partnership with Family Action.


  1. Current measures of poverty do not capture all children experiencing the impacts of poverty. To get a more accurate figure of the number of children experiencing poverty, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should add an income measure of poverty that accounts for the additional costs that make households more likely to experience poverty such as those costs associated with childcare, disability and renting. 
  2. Free School Meals (FSM) is frequently used as a proxy for disadvantage within a school, however, there are more accurate ways to measure the level of food insecurity within a school community. The Government should use the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) to target interventions in schools which address food insecurity.
  3. Food insecurity, worse physical and mental health outcomes and lower educational attainment are all impacts of child poverty. School breakfast provision can address food insecurity and improve health and educational outcomes for those children experiencing poverty, breaking the cycle of worklessness, low household income, and educational under-achievement.

How should poverty be measured and defined?

  1. Poverty is broadly defined as not having enough financial resources to reach the basic standard of living commonplace in society.
  2. At present the standard measures of poverty produced by government are absolute poverty and relative poverty, before and after housing costs. These measures are important due to their consistency and accessibility and are also crucial for comparing changes over time, and across groups and regions.
  3. These standard measures, however, do not capture all children who are experiencing poverty. This is because they do not account for additional, unavoidable costs that negatively impact a household’s financial resources (such as a disability or childcare costs) and therefore the households ability to meet a basic standard of living.
  4. In contrast, the Social Metrics Commission’s income measure of poverty does account for households’ additional, unavoidable financial costs such as those associated with disability, childcare and renting, and adjusts for liquid assets, to garner a more accurate picture of households’ financial resources. Using this method, the Social Metrics Commission estimates that 4.5 million children in the UK live in households that are unable to reach the basic standard of living and therefore are experiencing poverty. This is approximately 300,000 more children living in poverty than when calculated using current DWP measures.[i]
  5. Recommendation: The DWP should add an income measure of poverty that takes into account the unavoidable higher costs associated with disability, childcare and renting in order to more precisely calculate the financial resources available to a family and therefore the number of children experiencing poverty.

What is the impact of child poverty and how can it best be measured?

Impact: Child food insecurity 

  1. Poverty is strongly linked to food insecurity. A study by the Food Standards Agency found that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, food insecurity particularly affects the unemployed and those in the lowest income quartile.[ii] This is because food is often cited as one of the easiest things to compromise, with regard to both quality and quantity, when households’ budgets are tight.[iii]
  2. Prior to the pandemic, 1.8 million school age children in the UK were at risk of hunger. This figure is based on UNICEF data which indicates 19% of children under 15 in the UK are living in moderately or severely food insecure households, where parents and children are compromising the quality and quantity of the food they eat or skipping meals altogether.[iv]
  3. The economic impact of COVID-19 on jobs and wages has led to more families experiencing poverty and therefore more families experiencing food insecurity. 2.3 million children live in families that have experienced food insecurity during the pandemic[v] and 43% of low-income families with children reported cutting back on the amount of food they purchased.[vi] 
  4. Reports from Magic Breakfast supported schools confirm these national trends. 69% of teachers surveyed in Autumn 2020 at Magic Breakfast partner schools believe poverty has increased in their school community as a result of the pandemic and 48% of teachers surveyed believe child hunger has increased at their school.

Measuring Food Insecurity

  1. To date, food insecurity has not been routinely measured in the UK. We welcome the decision from the DWP to include measurements of food insecurity in the Family Resources Survey.
  2. Recommendation: DWP should publish an estimate of the number of children impacted by food insecurity as part of the Family Resources Survey data release in April 2021 and continue to include questions on food insecurity in the survey each year.
  3. Eligibility for Free school Meals (FSM) is often used as a proxy for measuring child poverty and child food insecurity in schools. However, Magic Breakfast’s experience from working with nearly 3,000 schools suggests there are limitations to this measure.
  4. We are continually told by schools that many of the pupils arriving at school hungry are those just above the threshold for means tested benefits such as FSM or not entitled to benefits such as those with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).
  5. Instead, a more accurate indicator of food insecurity has proven to be IDACI. IDACI measures a child’s likelihood of coming from a low-income household based on their postcode.
  6. The Department for Education (DfE) funded National School Breakfast Programme (NSBP) is targeted at schools with high levels of disadvantage in order to reach as many children impacted by food insecurity as possible. Schools with high levels of disadvantage were defined as schools with at least 50% of pupils in IDACI Bands A-F.
  7. Recommendation: The Government should use IDACI to more accurately target interventions in schools which address food insecurity.

Impact: Negative health outcomes

  1. Children living in poverty who experience food insecurity are also likely to have poorer health outcomes. Children from the lowest income families face significant challenges to achieve a healthy diet within the constraints of tight budgets. The high costs of nutritious food, in the context of low budgets, can lead to a reliance on cheap foods that are nutrient poor but calorie rich.
  2. Nearly 4 million children live in households that are unable to afford the government recommended healthy diet. The Food Foundation has estimated that households with children in the bottom two income deciles would have to spend 42% of disposable income (after housing) on food to meet the Government’s Eat Well Guide standards.[vii]
  3. Lack of access to adequate nutritious food is one of the reasons why children from the lowest income decile are disproportionately affected by obesity. Children aged 5 from the poorest income groups are twice as likely to be obese as their better off counterparts and by age 11 they are three times as likely to experience obesity.[viii]
  4. Food insecurity has also been associated with emotional and psychological stress among children, which could exert a negative effect on mental health outcomes.[ix] A 2002 study carried out in the United States aiming to assess the impact of hunger on children’s physical and mental health found that, compared with those with no experience of hunger, school age children with severe hunger were more likely to experience stressful life events, had higher parent-reported anxiety scores and were more likely to have behavioural problems than children with no experience of hunger.[x] 
  5. A survey by the NHS similarly found that children living in households in the lowest 20% income bracket are more than twice as likely to develop mental health problems as those living in households in the highest 20% income bracket.[xi]



Impact: Lower educational attainment

  1. Children living in poverty have lower educational attainment than their peers. By the time they take their GCSE, disadvantaged pupils (those who have been eligible for free school meals at any point in the last six years) are over 18 months of learning behind their peers. At the end of primary school, the gap between poorer pupils and their peers is 9.3 months.[xii]
  2. This attainment gap is worse for those living in persistent poverty. A secondary school, children with a high persistence of poverty (those on free school meals for 80% of their time at school) have a learning gap of 22.7 months – twice that of children with a low persistence of poverty (those on free school meals for less than 20% of their time at school), who have a learning gap of 11.3 months.[xiii]
  3. As a result of the pandemic the attainment gap has likely grown further with early research from the Education Endowment Foundation finding that disadvantaged pupils have been disproportionately impacted by lost learning during the pandemic. Early data suggests that the disadvantaged gap at Key Stage 1 has widened for the first time in 11 years.[xiv]

What links can be established for children between financial hardship, educational under-achievement, family breakdown and worklessness?

  1. Low-income families are more likely to experience food insecurity and this has a significant impact on children’s ability to learn. Hungry children struggle to concentrate on lessons and miss out on hours of valuable learning, eventually achieving lower results.
  2. Academic attainment is the single most important determinant of income and social mobility: higher levels of academic attainment lead to higher rates of employment, employment in higher-skilled jobs[xv] and higher incomes.[xvi]
  3. In order to break this cycle of educational under-achievement, worklessness and financial hardship, increasing attainment for those children experiencing poverty must be a priority.

The role of breakfast

  1. As well as understanding the impacts of child poverty, it is also important to consider interventions that reduce the gap in child outcomes produced by child poverty and break the cycle between financial hardship, educational under-achievement and worklessness.
  2. Breakfast provision in schools with high levels of disadvantage is a proven intervention that has positive outcomes for vulnerable pupils, reducing child hunger and improving the health and wellbeing, and educational attainment of pupils.
  3. An evaluation of the Magic Breakfast model carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that children in schools with high levels of disadvantage which provide free breakfast provision achieved an additional two months’ progress over the course of an academic year compared to children in schools with no breakfast provision.[xvii]
  4. A report from Pro Bono Economics developed in partnership with Magic Breakfast and Heinz found that providing disadvantaged pupils completing Key Stage 1 with just one year’s supply of school breakfast provision could generate long-term economic benefits in excess of £9,000 per child. More than 90% of these benefits are likely to be in the form of improved life-time earnings for the beneficiaries, with the remainder due to reduced costs for special educational needs, truancy and exclusions.[xviii]
  5. School breakfast provision can also improve healthy eating habits, with a survey of Magic Breakfast partner schools noting that 81% of teachers had observed an improvement in children’s healthy eating habits since the establishment of a school breakfast provision.[xix] One teacher remarked, “Many children have poor diets at home, some are overweight, and many have a high sugar diet, meaning they are at risk from developing all sorts of health issues later. Magic Breakfast helps to prevent this.”
  6. 82% of teachers surveyed by Magic Breakfast reported they had observed improvements in children’s mental and emotional wellbeing as a result of school breakfast provision.[xx]
  7. Recommendation: Magic Breakfast is calling for the Government to scale up school breakfast funding in line with the proposals set out in the School Breakfast Bill. This means providing all 8,700 schools in England with high levels of disadvantage (schools with 50% or more pupils in IDACI bands A-F) with funding to provide breakfast to children and make this funding long term and sustainable.

[i] Social Metrics Commission. A new measure of poverty for the UK. September 2018, https://socialmetricscommission.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/SMC_measuring-poverty-201809_full-report.pdf

[ii] Food Standards Agency. The Food and You survey: Wave 4. 2017, https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/media/document/food-and-you-w4-combined-report_0.pdf

[iii] The Trussell Trust. State of UK Hunger. November 2019, https://www.stateofhunger.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/State-of-Hunger-Report-November2019-Digital.pdf 

[iv] Pereira, A.L., Handa, S. and Holmqvist, G. Prevalence. Correlates of Food Insecurity Among Children Across the Globe, Innocenti Working Paper, UNICEF Office of Research, Florence. 2017, https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/IWP_2017_09.pdf

[v] The Food Foundation. A crisis within a crisis: The Impact of Covid-19 on Household Food Security. March 2021, https://foodfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/FF_Impact-of-Covid_FINAL.pdf 

[vi] Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children. A lifeline for our children: Strengthenign the social secrutity system for families with children during the pandemic. June 2020, file:///C:/Users/KatieFreeman/Downloads/a_lifeline_for_our_children%20(2).pdf

[vii] The Food Foundation. Affordable of the UK’s Eatwell Guide. September 2018, https://foodfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Affordability-of-the-Eatwell-Guide_Final_Web-Version.pdf

[viii] UK Government. Childhood obesity: a plan for action. January, 2017, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/childhood-obesity-a-plan-for-action/childhood-obesity-a-plan-for-action

[ix] Kirkpatrich et al. Child hunger and long-term adverse consequences for health. August 2010, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/383613

[x] Weinred et al, Hunger: It’s Impact on Children’s Health and Mental Health. October 2002, https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/110/4/e41

[xi] NHS Digital, Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017, https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-of-children-and-young-people-in-england

[xii] Education Policy Institute. Education in England: Annual Report 2020, August 2020, https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/education-in-england-annual-report-2020/

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Education Endowment Foundation. Impact of school closures and subsequent support strategies on attainment and socio-economic well being at Key Stage 1: Interim paper , January 2021, https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Publications/Covid-19_Resources/Impact_of_school_closures_KS1_interim_findings_paper_-_Jan_2021.pdf

[xv] OECD. OECD Economic Surveys: United Kingdom 2017 Chapter 2. 2017. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/ eco_surveys-gbr-2017-5-en/index.html?itemId=/content/ component/eco_surveys-gbr-2017-5-en

[xvi] Social Mobility Commission. The Long Shadow of Depravation: Differences in opportunity areas across England. September 2020, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/917278/The_long_shadow_of_deprivation_-_differences_in_opportunities_across_England.pdf

[xvii] Institute for Fiscal Studies. Magic Breakfast evaluation report and executive summary. December 2019, https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Projects/Evaluation_Reports/Magic_Breakfast_report.pdf

[xviii] Pro Bono Economics, Heinz and Magic Breakfast. The economic cost-effectiveness of the Magic Breakfast model of school breakfast provision. February 2021, https://www.magicbreakfast.com/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=e196b886-25b1-46fb-a455-e093001ac210

[xix] Magic Breakfast, Monitoring and Measuring. 2019. https://www.magicbreakfast.com/impact-of-magic-breakfast

[xx] Ibid.



March 21