23rd March, 2022

By Lindsey MacDonald, Chief Executive of Magic Breakfast.

Today’s Spring Statement showed some promise, but represents another missed opportunity by the Government to level up the life chances of some of the UK’s poorest students, and make good on their promises to close the gap between well off and less well off pupils. Recent announcements, such as the wise investment, Holiday Activities Fund (HAF) indicated in the Levelling Up White Paper, marked welcome interventions that will go some way to improving the lives of children across the UK. However, investment in free breakfast provision was not in the budget today.

We believe that in terms of term-time support, those who are poorest are receiving the least help – indeed, Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation has made the point that just £1 in every £3 of benefits from this statement go to the bottom half of the income distribution. The cost of living crisis, though receiving headlines recently, is years in the making. Certainly, geopolitical developments, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or the Covid-19 pandemic, have placed unprecedented pressure on public finances. But real wages have still not surpassed those from 2008 [i]. The Government can and should do more to help the communities we work with weather price shocks and cost of living rises. Speaking on Radio 4, Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert.com recently noted, ‘The rises in energy, heating, oil, water, council tax, broadband and mobiles, food, National Insurance, were all in place before [Russia invaded] Ukraine.’

Breakfast provision, at a time like this, is more important than ever. Every breakfast is a meal for a hungry child. It is fuel for learning. And right now, it is a meal that hard-working parents don’t have to worry about providing, putting more cash in their pockets. Our costings represent a modest investment from the government, but one that can make all the difference for struggling families watching the brutal impact of the cost of living crisis on their bottom line. 

Our ask is £75 million per year, using receipts taken from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy. This would have no impact on general taxation, and would ensure hundreds of thousands of children of primary school age in areas of high disadvantage would have thousands of their schools supported with sustainable funding and expert in-person support to ensure they are not too hungry to learn.  

Moreover, this marks a missed opportunity for meaningful intervention in an urgent issue: the widening educational attainment gap. For the first time in years, we are seeing a widening of the educational gap at Primary level [ii]. This is only going to be exacerbated by further material squeezes on those most in need. We know our intervention works. The evidence clearly demonstrates that free, nutritious breakfasts in school can help KS1 children achieve an additional two months of academic progress in a given year.  

That’s why, this Spring, we are calling on the Government to bridge the breakfast gap. Children and young people simply cannot learn on an empty stomach, and there is a growing attainment gap. Parents need all the help they can get, and anything that puts cash back in their pockets is a welcome intervention from the State. A filling and nutritious breakfast simply works, on both these counts.

We will continue our work with our fantastic partner organisations, and with Parliamentarians and elected officials of all parties and at all levels to build support for a new approach for breakfast fit for our current moment. Currently only a minority of schools in communities likely to be worst hit by the cost of living crisis are able to offer free breakfast support. We maintain our hope that the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Children and Families will work with us, building on some of the good steps recently taken by the Government, and reach more children in these communities.

[i] Average weekly earnings in Great Britain - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

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