Rising costs in the price of ingredients – and 'continued underfunding from central government' – are to blame for forcing up the cost of school dinners.

That's the claim of Hampshire County Council which is set to increase the price of a school meal in the county's schools by 20p per day from June 5.

Hampshire County Council Catering Services (HC3S) provides school meals and the cost will go up to £3 per day from the present £2.80, adding £1 to the weekly bill, pushing it up to £15.

The council says it has 'reluctantly' made the difficult to avoid 'considerable losses' by HC3S. 

 The increase will affect parents and carers who pay for school meals in those schools which use HC3S for their catering, as well as the schools themselves.

While schools are funded by the government to provide Universal Infant Free School Meals for Key Stage 1 pupils (those in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2), this funding does not cover the full associated costs. This is also the same for the provision of benefits-related free school meals for eligible older pupils. Schools are therefore having to cover the cost from their wider funding, placing extra pressure on overall budgets.

Hampshire County Council’s cabinet member for education, Councillor Steve Forster said: “Increasing the price of school meals was a very difficult decision as we are acutely aware of the cost-of-living pressures that continue to face households, and especially so soon after the last increase in October. 

"However, this decision has been unavoidable due to escalating food costs and the anticipated impact of the latest national pay proposal. Government funding has simply not kept pace with these inflationary pressures.

 “We know families and schools are facing rising costs across the board. We plan to provide funds to schools so they can offer grants at their own discretion to families most in need. We will continue to offer programmes of support to help those struggling with the ongoing rise in the cost of living. These include community pantries, community grants and the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme.

 “These are difficult times, and the decision to increase meal prices has not been taken lightly.

"We want to remind families that Key Stage 1 pupils receive free school meals, and older children whose families claim certain benefits are eligible for free school meals. Families should go to them HC3S website to check if they are entitled to free school meals.

 A high number of Hampshire’s 426 primary schools, as well as 20 secondary schools and 23 special schools, use HC3S to provide their school catering.