Dundee Discussion Papers in Economics
July 1, 2006
This paper assesses the extent to which opportunities exist for an extension of the entitlement to free school meals, in order to improve the targeting of free school meals to children from the poorest of households, and the extent to which changes in free school meal provision leads to a regionally specific impact on child poverty due to variations of household composition within the English regions and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This paper demonstrates that, first, entitlement to free school meals has been falling for the poorest households since 1997 and, second, that this problem cannot be rectified by targeting the poorest households using the current methods of targeting, namely entitlement derived from receipt of other trigger benefits. Third, we demonstrate that the necessity of targeting the poorest households is still greater when we realise that problems of severe poverty faced by these families are long-run rather than transient effects. Finally, we show that a move towards universal free school meals would not only be effective in targeting the poorest households but that it would have a stronger poverty reducing impact on poverty levels in Scotland and Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK.