The Chancellor has regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of issues. The autumn statement 2022 provided an additional £2.3 billion in funding for schools this year and next, over and above the totals announced at the spending review in 2021. That means that school funding next year will be £58.8 billion, exceeding 2010 levels of per pupil funding in real terms. That will help schools to manage costs, including those of school meals.
Since Liberal Democrats in government rolled out universal infant free school meals in 2014, funding for them has increased by just 11p. Given the soaring food costs, that is resulting in a real shortfall in meeting schools’ costs, which is having to be subsidised by cutting teaching budgets. The shortfalls range from 11p per meal in my local authority area of Richmond upon Thames to as much as 39p per meal in Hampshire. Will the Treasury provide the extra cash so that free school meal funding reflects the true costs that schools face or will the Minister continue to leave our schools and children short-changed?
I do not agree with that analysis. The free school meals funding for 2023-24 was set in line with precedent every year, using inflation forecasts in the autumn prior. About 1.9 million pupils are claiming a free school meal at lunchtime, which equates to 22.5% of pupils in state-funded schools; together with the 1.25 million infants supported through the universal infant free school meal policy, this is having an impact. However, I recognise the pressures across the whole economy, which is why, as I said, the Government gave those additional funds in the autumn statement last year.