PARENTS on Universal Credit should get free school meals for kids, a Government ordered review has claimed.
The National Food Strategy called for another 1.5 million children to be added to the school meals programme and warned the poorest were being “left behind”.
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Currently only children from households earning less than £7,400 before benefits are eligible for the programme.
Under the proposed changes, every child with a parent receiving universal credit would have access to the scheme.
The report said: “One of the miserable legacies of Covid-19 is likely to be a dramatic increase in unemployment and poverty, and therefore hunger.
“The effects of hunger on young bodies (and minds) are serious and long-lasting, and exacerbate social inequalities.
“Children who are hungry at school struggle to concentrate, perform poorly, and have worse attendance records”.
The independent report was commissioned by the Government, who will then consider its findings.
Expanding the programme could reach an extra 1.5 million seven to 16-year-olds, costing £670 million a year.
The report also calls for the holiday activity and food programme to be expanded to all areas in England, reaching an extra 1.1 million children.
Led by Leon restaurant founder Henry Dimbleby, the review also calls for Healthy Start vouchers to be increased in value to £4.25, and be available to pregnant women and households in receipt of universal credit with children under four.
The vouchers can be spent on fruit, vegetables vitamins and milk.
Paul Whiteman, leader of the Nation Association of Head Teachers, said there were already too many children who “arrive at school hungry and unable to learn”.
He added: “Free school meals at least guarantee that children going hungry at home get one nutritious meal a day.”
Oxford University professor Susan Jebb, who worked on the report, said: “A nutritionally poor-quality diet is the leading risk factor for ill-health in the UK, yet we do not treat it with the same seriousness afforded to other risk factors. That has to change.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call that obesity in particular increases the risk of suffering serious complications from the virus, but a poor diet also increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
“This report makes clear the gravity of the situation and the stark inequalities that are evident across the food system.”
Environment secretary George Eustice insisted the “government has invested record levels to support the most vulnerable in our society”.
He added: “But we know there is more to do, and we will carefully consider this independent report and its recommendations as we emerge from the pandemic and build a stronger food system for the future.”
It comes as Boris Johnson unveiled his “obesity plan” for Britain.
The new “Better Health” campaign run by Public Health England calls on everyone to “embrace a healthier lifestyle”.
It will be supported by the NHS with more referrals to Weight Management Services.
Under the plans, GPs will prescribe exercise, such as cycling and gym classes, and patients will be given access to weight loss apps.
Staff in doctors’ surgeries will also be trained as “healthy weight coaches” to give people advice on how to stay trim.