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LACA survey finds price of school lunch expected to rise further in 2023

12 Jan 2023
A survey by LACA, the school food people, has found the price of a paid-for school meal is expected to increase to an average of £2.65 in 2023, representing an 18% increase compared to March 2020 due to rising food and production costs.

In March 2020 the average cost of a school lunch was £2.24; this rose to £2.32 in May 2022 and increased again to £2.40 only three months ago. As a result of rising costs school caterers are recording higher levels of school meal debt, with an increasing number of parents unable to pay for their children to eat a school lunch.

LACA says too many children are falling through the cracks as they cannot access a paid-for school meal but do not meet the threshold entitling them to Free School Meals. LACA are calling for Free School Meal entitlement to be extended to all children whose parents are entitled to Universal Credit.

School caterers are committed to ensuring that no child goes hungry, which is why many of LACA’s members asserted within the survey that no matter the circumstance, every child would continue to receive a hot, healthy and nutritious meal, often at their own expense or the schools.

LACA has called on the Government to increase funding per meal for both Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM), currently £2.41 and Free School Meals (FSM) currently £2.47, to address the rising cost of food and its impact on the school meals service.

Brad Pearce, chair of LACA, said: “The result of our most recent survey is saddening, but not surprising. We have been saying for some time that the cost of a school lunch is far outstripping funding for both free school meals and universal infant free school meals. 

“Caterers and schools have little choice but to increase the cost of a paid-for school lunch, putting those children who just miss out on eligibility on a cliff-edge where, through no fault of their own, they are unable to afford and will miss out on a hot, healthy and nutritious lunch - perhaps their only hot meal of the day.

“We are between a rock and a hard place, and the only way to get out of this is for funding to be urgently increased. This is the only way to ensure that the most vulnerable – those on a free school meal – continue to have access to a school lunch. However, this also means too many children are falling through the cracks and going hungry.”

Key findings from the survey include:

  • 98% of members surveyed are still experiencing food shortages and substitutions from their supply chain. Nearly half (46%) of members said this has got worse since September.
  • All categories of food are affected, with staple items such as eggs, broccoli, pasta, baked beans and cheese mentioned most frequently.
  • Members reported further increases of 10-20% across food categories since September (on top of the 50% increases already experienced this year).
  • 11% of members have reduced costs through the quality of meat purchased, 7% are considering doing so.
  • 12.5% (up from 6% in September) of respondents told us that they are concerned about being able to continue to meet the school food standards over the coming months.
  • Recruitment challenges continue to disrupt the industry, with nearly 80% of members reporting that they are finding it challenging to recruit chefs.

ITV News visited Town Field Primary in Doncaster to explore the ‘biting costs for caterers’.

Members can view the November 2022 survey results here.