An uplift to the cost of universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) of 7p per pupil, per meal, has been called ‘miserly’ by the Soil Association (SA).

For pupils in reception, year one and year two the increase takes UIFSMs from £2.34 per plate to £2.41.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi announced that the increase will be backdated to 1 April. “We are increasing our funding for universal infant free school meals because we know that more can be done in the face of rising costs,” he commented.

But along with the SA, the school catering sector has pointed out that the top-up amounts to just 3% – falling short of inflation.

Laura Chan, policy officer, SA, says: “While we welcome any increase in funding for school meals, a 7p increase is miserly. This takes the meal price up to £2.41 which is less than a 5% increase on the original £2.30 allocated per head when the Government first introduced universal free infant school meal funding in 2014. In the face of the current levels of inflation and food prices, this uplift isn’t sufficient.

In the face of the current levels of inflation and food prices, this uplift isn’t sufficient

“It also begs the question why have they not increased free school meal eligibility for the most vulnerable in society, as recommended in the National Food Strategy? There are approximately 800,000 children living in poverty not currently eligible for free school meals. In addition to providing a vital nutritional safety net, extending eligibility has the potential to support caterers – who are facing significant challenges – and make the school meal system more viable through economies of scale.

“This is further evidence of an incoherent approach across Government to food policy, it’s a missed opportunity when what is needed is a school food review and reform to ensure that all children have access to healthy and nutritious food during the school day.”