Olivia Colman and Kate Winslet among dozens of celebs urging PM to fund free school meals for all

Dozens of celebrities, including Oscar winners Kate Winslet and Olivia Colman, have written an open letter to the prime minister, urging him to fund free school meals for every primary school pupil in England.

Led by the National Education Union, the letter explains child hunger is an "epidemic", claiming four million children faced food insecurity last year, with some having to skip meals entirely.

It comes as Education Secretary Gillian Keegan prepares to make her cornerstone speech at the Conservative party conference in Manchester today.

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The letter says: "We are writing to urge you to extend Free School Meal provision to every primary school child in England.

"We are living through the greatest cost of living crisis in a generation, and too many families with young children are being pulled into poverty.

"Free school meals for every child will put money back in parents' pockets. That's money they can use to pay for other essentials for their children, from heating and food at home to hobbies and after-school clubs.

"Teachers and support staff see the difference a healthy school dinner makes. When children are hungry, they can't learn. It's hard for them to concentrate and harder for them to reach their potential. Free School Meals for all would mean every child can learn and succeed.

"For the first three years of school, every child in England gets a hot dinner - and no child under seven wants for food while they're at school."

Scotland and Wales is already extending its respective schemes to all primary children, while Sadiq Khan has implemented universal free school meals in London.

Adding his signature to the letter is comedian James Acaster, who said: "The time I spent in school taught me it's a pretty terrible idea trying to teach kids who haven't had a decent lunch. I'm supporting the No Child Left Behind campaign because every child should have a hot, healthy school dinner, every day."

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Novelist Neil Gaiman, added: "I'm currently funding several Scottish school 'breakfast toast clubs' where they have at least some toast or snacks for kids who arrive at school hungry.

"It breaks my heart that there are kids who are going to have to go through the whole day without food. We can change that."

Other famous faces adding their names to the call include The Thick Of It writer Armando Iannucci, Succession actor Brian Cox, musician Jessie Ware and chef Yotam Ottolenghi.

In response, a government spokesperson said: "Over a third of pupils in England now receive free school meals in education settings, compared with one in six in 2010, and we have extended eligibility several times to more groups of children than any other government over the past half a century.

"This includes introducing new eligibility criteria for families receiving Universal Credit, to ensure even more children were eligible for a free school meal.

"We're providing record financial support worth an average £3,300 per household. We have also raised benefits in line with inflation, increased the National Living Wage and are helping households with food, energy and other essential costs."