The UK’s COVID-19 Free School Meals Policy: was it evidence based?

We’re pleased to announce that Dr Jennie C Parnham, winner of the Andrew Miller Prize, has now published her work on the UK strategy for the provision of free school meals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Parnham’s report can be accessed below, and the full academic publication is available from the Policy Design and Practice journal at the following link:


Timeline of key Free School Meal (FSM) policy events and the frequency of keywords referenced in the UK Parliament (1st March 2020 – 31st March 2021). Note: FSM – Free School Meals; HAF – Holiday Activities and Food programme; Local Authority Grant – COVID winter grant supplied to Local Authorities; Local Vouchers –    vouchers arranged by schools directly; Food Parcels – Any food supplied by the schools catering team (inclusive of meals delivered).
Note: This figure is taken from the original publication by Parnham et al. (2022) at:

Andrew Miller Prize Awarded to Jennie Parnham, Imperial College London

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.

About Jennie

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.  

The Andrew Miller Prize: funding for research on COVID-19 science in policy


We seek to award the Andrew Miller prize, a small grant of £8,000 to an early career researcher to provide funding for up to three months starting after June 2021, to carry out an analysis on the use of scientific evidence in UK policy responses to COVID-19.

We’re offering the Andrew Miller Prize in honour of Andrew Miller, a former Member of Parliament (MP) and valued Trustee of Newton’s Apple who, sadly, died in 2019. Andrew served as MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston from 1992 – 2015. He was the first Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee to be elected by all members of the House, a position in which he served for over a decade.

Andrew made numerous contributions to science policy over and above his role as an MP. He was the chair of the Grantham Institute for Sustainable Futures engagement board. He chaired the University of Chester’s Thornton Science Park Advisory Board and was a director of Thornton research. Such were his contributions, that Andrew was recognized by the Science Council as one of the UK’s 100 leading practicing scientists in 2014.

In honour of Andrew’s work championing the use of scientific evidence in policy making, and given the importance of science during the current COVID-19 pandemic, we seek to fund research on the use of scientific evidence in policy responses to COVID-19. In line with the ethos of our Newton’s Heirs programme, which aims to engage early career scientists with science policy, the prize is directed at early career researchers.

We invite early career researchers affiliated with the following organisations to apply:

Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) – UCL

Faculty of Public Health and Policy – LSHTM

Fuse – The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health

Health Policy Research Unit – De Montfort University

Public Health Policy Evaluation Unit – Imperial College London

The Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) – University of Sussex

The Department of Health Policy – LSE

Applicants may be asked to demonstrate their affiliation with one of these research units.

Deadline: 5pm on April 30th, 2021. For further information on how to apply, please download our guide.

Be part of our 2019-20 workshop programme!

We are currently planning or 2019-20 workshop programme! Get in touch if you want to be part of it.

Newton’s Apple Foundation was established in 2006 as a not-for-profit charity by a group made up of MP members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, Specialist advisors to the Committee and Civil Servants. Their mission was to increase engagement of the scientific community in calls for evidence from the Committee and from Government Departments. Input from researchers in Science. Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is vital, given that STEM can present both challenges and solution in so many aspects of modern life.

In order to provide early-career researchers with information about how policy is formulated by the Government, and given effect by Parliament, we launched our programme of Workshops in October 2008. At the launch event in the House of Commons Lord Drayson, the then Minister of Science, and the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Sir John Beddington, welcomed this much needed initiative.

This programme of workshops has since become a major activity for us and over the last ten years. We’ve been busy running workshops in the Palace of Westminster, and at various UK Universities. To date, nearly 2,000 early-career STEM researchers have attended. Our workshops provide an opportunity for the students to engage with individuals who are, or who have been, actively engaged with policy and law-making or providing advice to Government or Parliament.

If you’re interested in having us run a workshop for your organisation, please contact us.

The Future of European Research – September 24th

Early career researchers who have engaged with our programmes might be interested in attending this Wellcome Trust event on the Future of European Research.

On September 24th, Wellcome and Newcastle University will bring together the next generation of researchers with scientists who changed policy, policymakers from government and science organisations working on research policy.

For more information, or to register, follow the link:


Durham University workshop

On July 4th, Newton’s Apple returned to Durham University to give an Introduction to Science Policy workshop. Speakers on the programme included:

Dr Michael Elves (Chairman, Newton’s Apple, formerly Director of Scientific and Educational Affairs, Glaxo Wellcome and former Special Adviser to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee.)

Mr Andrew Miller, (Formerly MP and Chairman of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee and the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee)

Dr Claudia Lally, (Head of Resilience, Government Office for Science.)

Dr Stephen Benn, (Director of Parliamentary Affairs, Society of Biology)

Dr Ian Gibson (former MP and Chair the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee.)

Participant comments:

“Thanks for giving us this chance to meet all these great people.”

 “Case studies were particularly interesting. Good explanation of the different roles scientists have in influencing policy.”

“More on this theme please!  Sad to hear that this is a one-off event.”

 “A very interesting, informative and enjoyable workshop.”

“The range of speakers was integral to getting a well rounded and in-depth view of contributions to policy making.”

“It would have been nice to include comments from the local MP.”

“Really enjoyed it and excited to get involved now.”