School authorities are faced with the challenge of rising costs of food and energy which are forcing them to choose between heating classrooms and heating meals.
Caterers at UK schools, which reopened for the autumn term, have warned that children may have to eat smaller lunch portions and lower-quality dishes as the result of the cost-of-living crisis the country is facing.
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School authorities are faced with the challenge of rising costs of food and energy which are forcing them to choose between heating classrooms and heating meals, CNBC reported.
UK’s energy crisis is a burden of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The war led to a rapid rise in energy prices amid supply constraints. In response, Britain’s energy regulator announced a rise in the annual cap on domestic energy bills by 80 percent to an average of £3,549 ($4,197) from £1,971 a year. As a result, energy costs are expected to rise in non-domestic properties like schools and hospitals.
Publicly funded schools in England have raised an alarm over soaring energy prices which are exerting pressure on their budgets.
"We are looking for £900,000 additional, unbudgeted money," AFP quoted Rachael Warwick, executive headteacher of Ridgeway Education Trust in Oxfordshire.
The higher costs and energy crisis are also coming at a time when schools are expanding activities after pandemic curbs. Catering stipends have come under pressure in the aftermath of school closures during the pandemic, higher labour costs and ongoing supply chain disruptions.
Burden of war
According to an analysis by the International Monetary Fund, the impact of the energy crisis on the UK’s household budgets is harder than any country in western Europe. The report said the difference between the cost burden on rich and poor families is also far more unequal in the UK than in other countries, The Guardian reported.
The reason for the energy crisis is UK’s heavy reliance on gas to heat homes and produce electricity. The Russia-Ukraine war has sent gas prices soaring. European countries have accused Russia of limiting gas supplies in response to sanctions imposed by the West on Moscow due to the war.
Another reason for UK’s energy crisis is that the country has the least energy-efficient homes in western Europe.
Problem at schools
The government in the UK provides free meals in school for students aged between four and seven and to older children who hail from low-income families. However, if these allowances do not cover food and cooking costs, the schools will have to bear the costs.
Headteachers will now be faced with some difficult choices as they not only have to run the kitchen but also keep classrooms warm, Rob Percival, head of policy at UK food health charity the Soil Association, told CNBC.
As a result, schools may choose to reduce meal options, switch to lower quality imports and serve more energy-efficient cold meals than hot ones, Percival said.
“It is likely that we’ll see a shift away from hot meals this winter, just when children need them most,” Percival said.
(Edited by : Sudarsanan Mani)