Quality of school meals to get worse without government help, caterers' association says

As prices continue to rise, school dinners could be the next casualty of the cost of living crisis. ITV News' Martha Farlie reports

The quality of school meals will get worse without "urgent" government action, an industry body has warned after it found 90% of school catering companies are experiencing food shortages.

LACA surveyed caterers serving more than 2,600 UK schools, and the results suggest shortages are rife due to supply chain issues and the rising cost of food.

The price of staples such as minced beef had risen by 11% overnight in recent days, LACA said.

It added that, just as supplies are coming under pressure, the demand for free school meals is rising.

Just over half of caterers surveyed had seen a drop in the uptake of paid meals. Roughly the same amount said they'd noticed free school meal eligibility is increasing.

LACA national chairJacquie Blake said the findings are an “urgent wake-up call” and warned that without adequate funding, the “most vulnerable children” will miss out on their only hot meal of the day.

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She added: “Too many children are already falling through the cracks – their families cannot afford a paid school meal, but they are not eligible for free school meals.” Some school leaders said they are desperately trying not to allow rising food costs to affect the quality of school meals but that this is stretching their budgets in other areas. James Bowen, policy director at the NAHT school leaders’ union, said all households are seeing “sharply rising costs” and it “cannot help but impact schools and school meals”. “Schools will be working with their suppliers to maintain quality and to try and keep costs down for families, but that means absorbing higher costs into already tightly squeezed budgets,” he said.

54% of caterers said they'd noticed free school meal eligibility is increasing.

Children and families minister Will Quince said he recognises schools are “not immune” to the cost-of-living crisis but they must manage their own budgets.

"We’ve put an extra £7 billion over the course of the spending review period into schools, an additional £4 billion of that this year," Mr Quince said.

He added that the government has “really clear school food standards, which are all about healthy, nutritious meals for children while they’re at school”.