We are pleased to announce that, in memory of former Newton’s Apple Trustee, Andrew Miller, we have awarded the Andrew Miller Prize to Jennie Parnham, an early career researcher at Imperial College London. The prize is a small grant, which will support Jennie to carry out an analysis on the use of scientific evidence in UK policy around free school meals during COVID-19.
Jennie is an early career researcher based in the Public Health Policy Evaluation Unit at Imperial College London. Her main research interest is the inequality in diet and nutrition for low-income children. This was developed through her studies in Nutrition (BSc) at the University of Leeds and Social Epidemiology (MSc) at University College London. Currently, she is completing a NIHR School of Public Health Research funded PhD, evaluating nutrition welfare policies in the UK. Her PhD project included exploring the impact of the Healthy Start voucher scheme and free school meals on low-income children, filling critical evidence gaps for these policies.
About the project
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on inequalities in the UK. When schools closed in March 2020, the issue of continuing free school meals for low-income children became a topic of national concern. The Government was required to respond quickly to prevent school closures from having a drastic impact on low-income children. Their policy response, which changed over time and included a range of food-assistance measures (food packages, vouchers and, cash transfers) has been controversial, with research indicating the policy was not initially successful. It is unclear what factors drove the free school meal policy decisions and to what extent scientific evidence was considered. Therefore, this research project will review the policy and its surrounding literature to investigate the scientific and political justifications for policy decisions relating to free school meals in the UK during different phases of the COVID-19 pandemic (first and second lockdowns, school holidays). Following this, the project will identify existing gaps in knowledge and make recommendations for effective and efficient food-assistance. The free school meal measures were temporary but the issue of long-term policies to reduce food insecurity in the UK persists. Through analysing the UK’s free school meal policy response, this project will consolidate lessons learnt, review the most effective mode of food assistance, and provide recommendations for current and future policies.