The impact of the Free School Meal Voucher Scheme on inter-temporal sustainability and sustainable deficit.

by Justyna Lada

Fiscal concepts:

Intertemporal budget constraint requires for the present value of debt to be lower than discounted future revenues calculated at the NPV (Baglioni, Cherubini, 1993). It is a measure used to define the sustainability of debt. Not having enough revenue in the future to cover the present debt can lead to debt default (as per example of Greece back in 2015), resulting in loss of access to borrowing and inevitable shrinking of the economy as the government struggles to support the future growth.

The sustainable deficit looks at the relationship of debt as a percentage of GDP. Through adjusting the rate of growth (G) by deducting the interest rate (and inflation rate) (r) and multiplying by the proportion of debt (D) to GDP, we calculate the level of deficit that can occur before the level of debt would need to be increased to maintain the D/GDP proportion (Mear, 2020). This results in the below formulae:

(G-r) x (D/GDP)

 2013-2017 Debt and Deficit Sustainability

 The trends have been analysed based on the 5-year period between 2013-2017 (Appendix 1). Main findings of the analysis include:

  1. Economy and debt:
  • economy growth slowing down year-on-year (decreasing rate of growth)
  • increasing nominal debt year-on-year
  • debt sustainability – although debt/GDP level (85.2%) exceeds the Maastricht threshold of 60% and has a growing tendency which may suggest the unsustainable path (IMF, 2020), the Article IV (IMF, 2018) suggests that debt vulnerability profiles are low. The sustainability of debt will be highly affected if external shocks occur, thus impacting the rate of growth (GDP).
  1. Sustainability of deficit:
  • closing the gap between sustainable deficit % level and actual deficit % between 2013-2016
  • actual deficit became sustainable in 2017 mitigating the risk of debt default (Appendix 2).

Current Position

Latest Article IV Surveillance report (2018) indicates that the countries sustainable deficit level stands at 3% with a level of debt to GDP being 85.2% (Appendix 3). In current pandemic (external shock), both levels of debt and sustainable deficit have changed. With the shrinking of the market (negative 9.8% rate of growth) (IMF, 2020) a 10.11% surplus is required (Appendix 4) to maintain current levels of debt to GDP – 100.8% (, 2020). All of governments income will be used to cover the current levels of debt.

 National Free School Meal Voucher Scheme and Covid Winter Grant Scheme


  1. Background

In response to Covid-19, on 31/03/2020, government introduced the Free School Meal Voucher (temporary) Scheme to ensure that children eligible for free school meals are receiving meals despite school closures, and where schools are not providing the meals for collection or delivery.

The school meal voucher value (£15) per child was exceeding the costs of meal subsidise provided to the schools (£11.50/child) (National Audit Office, 2020) to recognise the difference in cost of providing the meal when bulk buying versus provided at retail price by parents (, 2020). The scheme has been extended into school holidays to cover Easter and Summer Holidays 2020 following public demand (BBC, 2020) and has incurred a total estimated (adjusted) cost of £384m for voucher codes issued by supplier. The policy was replaced in November 2020 by Covid Winter Grant Scheme, which extends government support in providing meals to disadvantaged children, up to March 2021 at a cost of £170m. The funding will be provided to the local authorities to distribute as appropriate reverting back to schools providing meals for eligible children in term time only (,2020).

  1. Impact on inter-temporal sustainability and sustainable deficit.

Both policies have an unsignificant impact (below 1% each) on the total welfare spending forecasted by OBR (2020) at £246.2 billion in fiscal year 2020-21 (Appendix 4).

  • Intertemporal impact – the policy does not have an impact on future growth of the economy or levels of revenue as the Debt/GDP levels remain constant at 109.9% regardless of the policy change. The policies are a temporary measure in response to external shock, supporting the families on the lowest income levels, but being insignificant in terms of % of total welfare spend or total expenditure. The replacement of Free School Meal Voucher Scheme by Winter Grant Scheme improves the fiscal space through reducing the expenditure by £214m.
  • Deficit impact – the expenditure increases the welfare spend, therefore increasing the amount of surplus needed to sustain the levels of sustainable surplus considering increasing levels of Debt. The value of the spend is unsignificant on its own and thus does not affect the sustainable deficit %.

Table below provides an overview of spend as per OBR (2020) predictions, showing the impact of both policies as additional spend assuming constant nominal GDP, revenue, and interest.



OBR Forecast*

Free School Meal Voucher Scheme

Winter Grant Scheme

In billion unless otherwise stated

Policy Cost (p)



Nominal GDP




Government Revenue (a)




Primary Expenditure with relevant Policy (b+p)




Primary Deficit (a-(b+p))




Interest (c)




Total Deficit (a-b+p+c)




Public Debt + Cost of Policy (p)




Primary Deficit/GDP (%)




Debt/GDP (%)





*Note: OBR Forecast figures include the expenditure on Free School Meal Voucher Scheme and Winter Grant Scheme. The table is purely informative to highlight the impact of both policies on deficit and debt levels.


Cautionary Notes

  1. Main criticism of introduction of both Policies:
  • Responsibility of parents – there is an argument amongst MP’s that it should be parents’ responsibility to feed their children, not the governments (Catt, 2020; Elgot and Walker, 2020).
  1. Main criticism of withdrawal of both Policies:
  • Short-termism of the policies – the demand for government support to provide free school meals outside of term time is high following Mr Rashford’s successful campaign in June 2020 (Lawrie, 2020). An open critique of the lack of government support for the families living in poverty has been voiced again by public figures and organisations after the withdrawal of Free School Voucher Scheme (Siddique, 2020). Support for the continuity of meal provisions for children extends to wider organisations, i.e., Save the Children UK (2020) charity supports the Winter Grant Scheme and other provisions that have been put in place, but already voices concerns over the lack of future continuity of the support.
  • Increase in other welfare measures as a sufficient measure of support– in March 2020, an announcement has been made on the temporary increase in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by £20/week each at a total cost of £6.1m (OBR, 2020). This could be argued as a sufficient increase in the government support to allow for the withdrawal of the policies, the counterargument being that increase in this welfare spends are temporary and subject to being withdrawn in April (Sandhu, 2020).
  • Issue of hunger in UN Sustainable Development Goals context – the free school meals being aimed at financially disadvantaged children are fulfilling basic rights to a nutritious meal under SDG’s 2 (United Nations, 2020). It can be argued that discontinuation of the policy undermines the basic human rights of access to food.
  • Reduced funding – reduction of funding through movement from Free School Meal Voucher Scheme to Winter Grant Scheme is putting additional strain on the local governments responsible for distribution of the funds considering increasing demand for Free School Meals and means tested benefits (OBR, 2020).



Appendix 1









IMF (2017)

IMF (2018)

Growth (%)






Interest Rates (%)






Inflation (%)


















Sustainable deficit (%)







OBR (2020)

Actual Deficit/GDP (%)






Source (2020)

Debt Levels (£b)







Appendix 2

Free School Voucher Scheme as a % of total welfare spend:

384,000,000 / 246,200,000,000 = 0.16%

Covid Winter Grant Scheme as a % of total welfare spend:

170,000,000 / 246,200,000,000 = 0.07%


Appendix 3

(G-r) x (D/GDP)  



R=(1.2%-3% inflation)=-1.8%

D/GDP = 85.3%

1.7- – 1.8×85.3 = 2.98%

(IMF, 2020)


Appendix 4


G= -9.8 (IMF,2020)

R= 0.2(Bloomberg, 2020) – 0.8 (IMF, 2020) = -0.6

D/GDP = 109.9% (OBR, 2020)

-9.8- – 0.6×109.9% = – 10.11%



About Justyna Lada

My name is Justyna Lada. I am an Accounting and Finance Final Year Mature Student with one year placement experience and a mum of three. My journey to university was long and rocky. And so was my love for Finance. It all started with an Accounting for Dummies book picked up from the Library, through Bookkeeping course, to applying to the University. I do not come from an accounting background, and neither does anybody in my family full of teachers, environmentalist and admin workers. My passions lay with managing the public spending and business partnering as a means to better corporate finance.
















The politics of ‘belonging’


Mike Makin-Waite

Following the Labour Party’s defeat in this month’s Hartlepool by-election, and mixed results elsewhere, including the loss of many council seats, there is renewed debate about the politics of ‘belonging’.

All too often, this debate takes simplistic forms, as if a bit of patriotic signalling and Union Jack waving, or a focus on very localised issues such as the state of the pavements, can offer politicians the route back to popular support. In fact, the politics of belonging are complex, and need to be handled accordingly. They have been shaped by long processes of deindustrialisation which have affected many parts of Britain, as elsewhere – and by the ‘austerity’ policies which were pursued by the Cameron-Clegg coalition government.

My recent research notes how the psychology of regional and local belonging has reshaped politics in northern England. This is partly an expression of the long-term trend of particularist identities developing in response to globalisation. It takes specific forms prompted in part by the growth of Scottish nationalism; the growing significance of the directly-elected mayors serving Greater Manchester, the Liverpool and Sheffield city regions, and, now, West Yorkshire; increased awareness of England’s north/south divide; and place-based reactions to the inequalities which result from the long-term distortion of economic policy to serve the interests of the London-based financial services sector.

I focussed on the town of Burnley, where I was a local government officer from the mid-1990s until 2018: my new book On Burnley Road: Class, Race and Politics in a Northern English Town tracks how deindustrialisation set the context for serious racialised rioting twenty years ago, followed by the first ‘breakthrough’ successes for Nick Griffin’s British National Party. The themes established at that time in Burnley’s local politics – antipathy to immigration, opposition to ‘multiculturalism’ and a desire to leave ‘Europe’, later became more widespread and generalised, shaping 2016’s Brexit vote and providing core arguments for Johnson’s Conservatives as they began defeating Labour in the so-called “red wall” seats.

What lay behind these developments? In Burnley, social changes and serious economic dislocations had made many people feel alienated from their surroundings. Modernisation” in the workplace or the neighbourhood had all too often spelled redundancy, displacement and marginalisation. Most peoples’ sense of their place is based on the time when they established key aspects of their identity. At the time of the 2001 northern town riots, large numbers of Burnley residents remembered working life in the post-war years. The 1960s and 1970s were decades of relative social stability and predictable improvements in living standards. Shared experiences provided common reference points, many of them for town’s Asian-heritage residents and white residents alike.

But the wave of factory closures and job losses from the 1980s led to the removal of referents, underpinnings and co-ordinates that were crucial to people’s sense of self. Working-class life became fragmented, and income levels and living standards were driven down. This did not necessarily reduce ‘belonging’ as such, but generated a form of disturbed, unsettled belonging. Some people reacted to social changes and dislocations by ‘investing’ more in their immediate locality. This was in part an understandable retreat from a world in which local institutions such as the town’s building society, or well-known family firms, had been closed by or drawn into the rootless dynamics of global financial flows, with their chaos and impermanence.

But some forms of ‘pride’ in ‘belonging’ to a neighbourhood involved a distancing from the wider town, and inward- looking and defensive attitudes which could turn into fear of ‘others’. One under-researched aspect of this shift, which happened in many places across northern England during the 1990s, was the increasing salience of ‘small-place identity’. This saw people ‘moving’ psychologically whilst staying in the same place. In the places I know well, some people who have lived in the same house for thirty or forty years have changed their description of home. Once they would have said that they came from their town or city (Burnley or Accrington, Blackburn or Bradford) but would now describe themselves as coming from their particular neighbourhood (Briercliffe or Baxenden, Brownhill or Wyke).

In this context, some political actors began asserting the needs and interests of local neighbourhoods in opposition to the rest of the borough or the city, rather than making a claim for resources and attention which at the same time acknowledged the need for balanced decisions across the local authority area. In Burnley in the late 1990s, a small group of Independent councillors began comparing their own wards to ‘certain other areas’, a counter-position carrying a racist element, at first coyly suggested and then explicitly stated. Unmet needs in some wards were contrasted with small parts of town that had become ‘mainly Asian’ and that were now included in targeted regeneration programmes. Taking up this theme, the local press promoted the myth that unfairly disproportionate funding was ‘going to Asians’. In this way, urban regeneration initiatives began to be a focus of resentment, which many Labour councillors failed to counteract and sometimes indulged. The locations set to benefit were often not much more deprived than adjacent places, which were not going to have money spent in them: residents paying their council tax but living next to regeneration areas felt like money was being taken from the medium poor to give to the poor poor.

‘Urban renewal’ thus had the unintended and perverse effect of contributing to social polarisation. Some people at once stigmatised and resented their neighbours: the soon-to-be beneficiaries of government grants were at the same time blamed for being the authors of the situation which required the ‘handout’, and envied for getting money which others couldn’t access. Subsequent regeneration programmes and social policy initiatives did take account of the dangers which were highlighted by the 2001 riots. Some of the work carried out by Burnley Council, voluntary organisations and the interfaith network showed that used sensitively and confidently, ‘belonging’ can be one of the themes around which we can develop inclusive political identities in our towns and cities. Nevertheless, politicians and professionals need to be continually mindful of the dangers of using ‘belonging’ in simplistic ways, and be alert to the risks and problems that can result.