Objectives: To investigate access to free school meals (FSM) among eligible children, to describe factors associated with uptake and investigate whether receiving FSM was associated with measures of food insecurity in the UK using the COVID-19 wave of the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHKS). Study design: Cross sectional analyses of UKHLS COVID-19 wave data collected in April 2020. Methods: UKHLS participants completed a COVID-19 questionnaire in April 2020. 635 children who were FSM eligible with complete data were included in the analytic sample. Accessing a FSM was defined as having receiving a FSM voucher or a cooked meal at school. Multivariable logistic regression was used to investigate (i) associations between characteristics and access to FSM and (ii) associations between access to FSM and household food insecurity measures. All analyses accounted for survey design and sample weights. Results: 51% of eligible children accessed a FSM. Children in junior schools or above (aged 8+ years) (OR 11.81; 95% CI 5.54,25.19), who were low income (AOR 4.81; 95% CI 2.10,11.03) or still attending schools (AOR 5.87; 95% CI 1.70,20.25) were more likely to receive FSM. Children in Wales were less likely to access FSM than those in England (AOR 0.11; 95% CI 0.03,0.43). Receiving a FSM was associated with an increased odds of recently using a food bank, but not reporting feeling hungry. Conclusions: In the month following the COVID-19 lockdown, 49% of eligible children did not receive any form of FSM. The present analyses highlight that the voucher scheme did not adequately serve children who could not attend school during the lockdown. Moreover, more needs to be done to support families relying on income-related benefits, who still report needed to access a foodbank. As scheme may be continued in summer or in second wave, large improvements will be needed to improve its reach.
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