A few days after the start of the school year, the subject is a subject of concern for many families. With the rising cost of energy and food, the cost of school canteen meals is likely to rise in many communities. According to an Ifop poll commissioned by the National Union of Collective Catering (SNRC), relayed in Le Journal du Dimanche on September 4, 81% of parents say they are worried about seeing prices increase this year. Nearly half of them (four out of ten) would consider reducing the number of meals taken in the canteen by their child. Even if social pricing serves as a shield, the situation could affect disadvantaged families, whose children are already very absent from school lunches. With, at the end of the day, consequences for the health and education of these students.

Many parents are worried, and rightly so: price increases affecting local authorities are not going to be painless. According to Gilles Pérole, in charge of school catering at the Association of Mayors of France (AMF), around half of the municipalities should pass on these increases to canteen prices. A portion that could increase. “The others will keep them as long as they can,” he told the JDD. The price of menus is likely to increase by 5 to 10%, while the municipalities, which organize this service in primary schools, have already absorbed part of the price increase.

Not enough, however, to offset the effects of inflation, while food prices have risen by more than 10%: more than 70% for oil, 30% for poultry, 25% for beef … At a minimum, the SNRC expects an “average” increase of 7% in costs in 2022 for its customers – here town halls, communities and schools – as explained to franceinfo Anne-Laure Desclèves , the spokesperson for the union. “This, without counting the occasional increases: before the summer holidays, sunflower oil increased by 300%. We were paying three and a half times more than usual”, testifies Didier Georges, head of establishment and National Secretary of the National Union of National Education Management Staff. The situation is not likely to improve in the months to come: the drought which has affected France this year has led to a drop in production of up to 35%, according to Jacques Rouchaussé, president of Légumes de France, interviewed on franceinfo. Losses which should again lead to a rise in prices.

Not all establishments react in the same way to this increase. First, because the canteen of the latter depends on different levels. The high schools being dependent on the regions, it is the latter who pay the bill. The colleges return to the departments. The case is still different, finally, for primary schools, whose management falls to the municipalities: 60% of them directly manage the meals of the pupils at noon, when the rest of the town halls delegate the preparation of lunches to catering companies. collective. These case-by-case negotiations weigh in any case on the communities, which can choose to pass on – or not – the increases to the parents of pupils.

In this return to September, everyone is doing their own thing. Aix-en-Provence refuses to increase prices, its municipality indicating to the World to make the choice “on other expenses”. This is also the case of that of Dunkirk, in the North, or Libourne, in Gironde. In a school in the Rhône, in L’Arbresle, prices have jumped by 10%, and should rise again by the same amount next year. As France 2 reports, the town hall has passed on part of the prices to the meal rates, increasing the price of lunches by 20 to 50 cents depending on the parents’ income. “Each territory, each municipality, even each school has a completely different pricing policy”, explains Johan Jousseaume. This pole manager at the Trade Union Confederation of Families (CSF), a consumer association, delivers this overall picture: “According to the feedback we have from the field, a quarter of the communities will follow the prices of inflation on the three-quarters of the others are split in two: a good half of the local authorities will maintain last year’s prices, while the rest will allow themselves a slight increase in their prices, which will generally remain less important than inflation”.

According to a study published in 2017 by the National Council for the Evaluation of the School System (Cnesco), the disparities in the school canteen are flagrant. On average, in college, students from disadvantaged families were twice as likely (around 40%) to skip lunch there as their privileged (22%) or very privileged (17%) classmates. For many students whose families are in difficulty, this absence does not mean a simple detour by the house, but rather no meal at all. “At the time, the feedback from our local branches indicated that of these three million children who did not eat in the canteen, 40% of them did not eat at all, points out Eric Labastie, secretary general of the Federation councils of parents of pupils (FCPE). Today, one can easily imagine that these three million have increased to five, with the same proportion of children depriving themselves of meals”. Which would no longer make 900,000 but two million children who do not eat lunch. All this without taking into account the effects of current inflation. “For us, it is obvious that this number will increase in the coming months, he continues. This is unacceptable”.

These inequalities of access to the canteen can be felt in learning. “They create additional inequalities, underlines Agnès Florin, professor emeritus in child psychology and education at the University of Nantes, appointed co-president of Cnesco in July. A poor diet will increase the risk of obesity A child who is not well nourished has an increased risk of having attention difficulties, and therefore academic difficulties when learning. To these problems is added an obvious feeling of exclusion: how not to feel apart when you are the only one of your comrades who cannot have lunch with the group?

In order to limit damage, various aid policies are already in place. For 1st level schools, the social pricing of canteens makes it possible to offer families prices indexed to their income, or the number of children in the household. As for colleges and high schools, scholarships take over, again in relation to the family quotient of each household. “In the case of temporary difficulties, some families can also benefit from social funds, explains Didier Georges. The price of meals is limited for the student to just a few tens of cents. been able to register to become scholarship holders”.

An appreciable mechanism, notes the headmaster, in a period when these “accidents of life” are likely to multiply. “Since the end of winter, we have seen more and more requests for this aid, he continues. There was no question of a price increase for the canteen at the time. increases, this aid is very appreciable” Especially since the current situation is not likely to improve. “Communities that choose not to pass on the price increase in September could very well do so on January 1, after a new inventory, warns Johan Jousseaume. The concern is there: many municipalities say to themselves that they are cushioning the price increase for this time, without being able to guarantee how long it will last”. A buffer may expire.