Minister to update Free School Meal guidance after debate win

3 mins read

Thursday 11 January 2024

Parent campaigners with supportive MPs ahead of Free School Meals debate.

In a huge win for parent campaigner, Natalie Hay and Contact, the Schools Minister has agreed to update free school meals guidance following a debate in Westminster yesterday.

The changes will make clear that local authorities and schools are legally obliged to offer reasonable adjustments to children who can’t have their free school meal in the regular way, such as by providing supermarket vouchers.

MPs from all parties supported our motion

Labour MP Ian Byrne led the debate in Westminster yesterday, Wednesday 10 January. In his opening speech, Byrne highlighted new figures from Contact that show more than 164,000 eligible disabled children are unable to access the free school meals they should be receiving. 

Mr Byrne said that “families should not have to face this battle”. He called on the government to update its free school meals guidance making local authority and school responsibilities clear.

What followed next restored our faith in the political process. More than 20 MPs from all parties made powerful speeches in support of the motion. They referenced numerous constituents’ stories and quoted Contact’s research. An engaged, well-briefed Minister responded for the government.

As one parent put it: “I was moved to tears by watching MPs out there that care.” 

We will keep a watchful eye to make sure the government follows through on its commitment to update guidance.

Thank you to all our supporters

Thank you again to all our supporters who invited their MP to the Westminster Hall debate. You sent more than 1,400 emails to your MPs. It’s parents like you who helped us achieve this campaign win.

You can watch the debate back on Parliament TV (forward to 17.18), or you can read the transcript of the debate or in the Daily Mirror.

Last month, the government conceded that free school meals should be provided to eligible children who are unable to attend school due to their special educational needs and have a package of support often referred to as education otherwise than at school (EOTAS). This was thanks to legal action by a group of parents led by Natalie Hay. Natalie independently raised £8000 through crowdfunding to instruct human rights lawyers to take this to court.

As a result, almost 2,000 disabled children across England missing out on a free school meal can now get funding for a free lunch from their local council.  

The government committed to preparing guidance for local authorities (expected in March 2024) to ensure that local authorities are providing access to a meal for those with EOTAS.

This legal action was a pivotal part of the campaign, because the government conceded that discrimination could be happening and agreed to update the Free School Meal guidance to ensure eligible children with a package of EOTAS can access their free school meal.

This was also confirmed at the Westminster Hall debate. Until guidance is published,  if you are in this position please use our template letter B.