Breakfast and beyond: the magic of levies for supporting children’s health

School breakfast. Copyright: Magic Breakfast

In this week’s guest blog for Recipe for Change, Katharine Voss at Magic Breakfast explores the important role that food and drinks levies can play in funding children’s health programmes and access to good food.

“When you’re hungry you get like, stomach pains, moody and grumpy and stuff. And you don’t want that. And some people just start dozing off.” Elise*, 10 years old, North West.

Hunger among schoolchildren is widespread in our communities, and many children and young people in the UK do not have access to the range of healthy foods they need for strong brain and overall development.

This is particularly true for those living in low-income households. Three million children in the UK are at risk of going to school hungry each morning. But the consequences go beyond the school gates – they intensify inequalities, health issues and continue the cycle of poverty in society.

For over 20 years Magic Breakfast has been helping schools provide pupils with a calm start to the day and ensure that tummies are full, and heads are ready to learn. Through our network of engagement partners who work directly in our partner schools, we know first-hand that school canteens, lunch boxes and nearby shops are flooded with food overloaded with salt and sugar. This is why Magic Breakfast is joining the call on the government to introduce a new levy on unhealthy food, and to invest revenue raised from the levy in children’s health and access to good food.

We know that a ‘polluter pays’ levy like this can work. Since its inception in 2016, the Soft Drink Industry Levy (SDIL) has been a successful piece of public policy, celebrated both in public health and the soft drinks industry itself, reducing the consumption of high-sugar soft drinks, and incentivising reformulation to make drinks healthier. Funds raised have been used to fund food and child health policies in schools, including school breakfast provision through the National School Breakfast Programme (currently running in approximately 2700 schools in England).

Providing free, nutritious school breakfasts is a powerful tool to promote health, academic success and equity. The broad range of benefits extend far beyond simply providing a meal. There are profound implications for the physical, cognitive and emotional well-being of children and young people. A study by Leeds University found that young people who regularly ate breakfast achieved an average of 2 GCSE grades higher than young people who rarely ate breakfast.

All children and young people should be able to access healthy food. School food is an enabler, acting as a nutritional safety net for the most vulnerable children and providing an opportunity to narrow the gap in diet inequality.

Implementing a tax on unhealthy food, building upon the success of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL), presents an opportunity to further enhance the health and well-being of our communities. Such a tax would not only reduce the availability of harmful food options but also generate revenue that can be reinvested into public health initiatives to foster positive choices. By allocating funds towards expanding school food programmes, we can make a meaningful investment in the future health and success of children and young people while simultaneously addressing broader public health challenges.

*name has been changed to protect identity

Magic Breakfast is a registered charity that exists to make sure no child or young person is too hungry to learn. We provide nutritious breakfasts and expert support to primary, secondary, ASN/SEND schools and pupil referral units in disadvantaged areas of England and Scotland. Providing a daily school breakfast ensures that every child and young person feels included, equal and set up for success. Magic Breakfast works to be part of the solution to end child morning hunger for good through our campaigning, research and advocacy work with politicians and decision-makers.

Katharine Voss (she/her) is Campaigns and Policy Manager at Magic Breakfast, leading their advocacy and campaigning work to address child morning hunger and the underlying systemic causes. She has a background in human rights campaigning and activist mobilisation.

Katharine Voss
Magic Breakfast Sustain

Published 3 Apr 2024

Join us

Organisations - be a part of a Recipe for Change

Join us

We are calling for an industry levy to help make food healthier.

© Sustain 2024
Registered charity (no. 1018643)
Data privacy & cookies