Universal versus targeted benefits: the distributional effects of free school meals

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

June 1, 2005


UK government policy over the past thirty years has seen a movement away from universal provision of welfare towards the targeting of welfare. The advent of devolution in Scotland, and to a lesser degree Wales, has, however, created new policy forums in which the shift towards targeted benefits has been reversed in a number of important fields. Welfare provision in relation to children is a further key area in which this policy debate has emerged. Little evidence has been provided for the effectiveness of this shift in policy until now. We examine the effect of this divergence in welfare policy. We look at the issue of universality and targeting by examining the impact of the proposal for the introduction of universal free school meals to all children in full-time state education. The current system of free school meals is found to be the least effective method of welfare provision. Other methods of targeting are found to be more effective than the current system, but universal provision is found to be the only mechanism for consistently providing welfare to all low-income households.

Published in

Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy


Volume: 23 (4):583-598



not held in Res Lib - bibliographic reference only



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