Impact of the universal infant free school meal policy

This study will assess the impact of the Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) policy, which was introduced in September 2014. The policy means that all children in state-funded English infant schools (reception to Year 2) can receive a daily free school meal. The study will assess the impact of the policy on:

  • educational performance at age 5 and 7;
  • personal, social and emotional development at age 5;
  • Body Mass Index and rates of children being underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese;
  • school absences due to illness and medical appointments in infant school;
  • take-up of school lunches, both among newly eligible children and those who were already eligible for free school meals.

The cost of UIFSM is estimated at £400 per pupil per year plus £15m+ capital spending on school kitchen facilities in the first year. Researchers will use several large datasets and surveys to provide evidence on the take-up of meals, as well as assessing the impact on different subgroups of children and schools. A cost-benefit calculation aims to determine the cost of raising attainment by a given margin through UIFSM and benchmark this against other comparable policies.

The outcomes and recommendations of this project will be communicated through a project report and academic papers, which will be communicated to policy makers and national and international academic conferences.

Project details



Dr Birgitta Rabe, University of Essex

Dr Angus Holford, University of Essex

Grant amount and duration:

January 2018 – June 2019