Khan guarantees London primaries free school meals for a year

Back to school: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was in Tooting yesterday to launch his free school meals initiative, which begins in primaries across London in September

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced an historic £130million emergency scheme to help families with the spiralling cost of living by ensuring that every primary school pupil in London will receive free school meals in the next academic year.

The Mayor is stepping in with the one-off proposal to ensure that healthy free school meals are available to all primary school pupils for one year from September due to the extreme pressures currently facing households across the capital.

The unprecedented move will help around 270,000 primary school children and save families around £440 per child across the year.

The scheme follows similar initiatives already in place in Newham, Islington, Southwark and Tower Hamlets, while Westminster started offering free school meals for 18 months from last month.

When the government piloted universal entitlement to free school meals in primary schools, it improved attainment by the equivalent of two months in the classroom – with an extra 4.5per cent of 11-year-olds meeting the expected maths levels.

Mayor Khan has repeatedly called on the government to make school dinners available to all, as research has shown that hundreds of thousands of children live in poverty but do not receive them due to restrictive eligibility criteria. Currently a household on universal credit must earn less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including benefits), regardless of the number of children in the family, to be eligible.

“As well as saving families hundreds of pounds per child, making free school meals available to all helps reduce the stigma that can be associated with being singled out as low income, therefore boosting take-up among families who need them most,” the Mayor’s office said yesterday.

Proof of the pudding: government statistics shows that universal provision of free school meals improves children’s academic attainment

“The meals are also good for children’s health as they may be the child’s main source of hot, nutritious food. By ensuring they don’t go hungry, children are better equipped to learn.”

Mayor Khan visited his old school, Fircroft Primary, in Tooting, for the media launch of the scheme. Sadiq Khan himself received free school meals as a child.

The Mayor is also spending more than £80million to help those struggling with the rising cost of living, including more than £50million to tackle fuel poverty through the Mayor’s Warmer Homes programme and energy advice services, and more than £20million to improve security for private renters and house Londoners who are rough sleeping or homeless.

“The cost of living crisis means families and children across our city are in desperate need of additional support,” Mayor Khan said.

“I have repeatedly urged the Government to provide free school meals to help already stretched families, but they have simply failed to act.”

The Mayor said that his scheme “will guarantee every primary school pupil a healthy, nutritious meal – meaning they don’t go hungry in the classroom and can better concentrate on their studies”.

He said: “I know from personal experience that free school meals are a lifeline. My siblings and I depended on them to eat while at school and my parents relied on them to give our family a little extra breathing room financially. The difference they can make to children who are at risk of going hungry – and to families who are struggling to make ends meet – is truly game-changing.”

The average cost of a hot school meal for a primary school child in London is between £2.25 and £2.35. Children are expected to attend school for 190 days across the academic year. Extending free school meals to children who do not currently receive it potentially saves families up to £440 an academic year on the cost of one child’s hot school lunch.

According to research by the Child Poverty Action Group, there are 210,000 schoolchildren across all London’s schools in poverty that don’t receive free school meals. This research includes children and young people from Years 3-11.

The Mayor’s initiative was welcomed by a number of public figures.

Supporting: Celebrity chef Tom Kerridge

The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, said: “London’s children face some of the highest levels of deprivation anywhere in the country. We cannot consider ourselves a modern and progressive society if the most vulnerable among us are forced to go without basic food and nourishment. School should be a place where children can learn and grow; not worry about where their next hot meal is going to come from.”

And Tom Kerridge, the TV chef, said: “All children deserve access to healthy, nutritious food and, at a particularly difficult time for many households and families, I’m pleased to lend my support to the Mayor’s initiative to ensure every primary school child in London has access to free school meals.”

Anna Taylor, from The Food Foundation, said: “We applaud London’s Mayor for taking timely action to support families fighting the cost of living by ensuring every primary school pupil gets a nutritious lunch, no matter their background. This is a monumental step forward for safeguarding children’s diets, well-being and learning across the capital.”

Barbara Crowther of the Children’s Food Campaign said: “Healthy school food for all should be a core part of a fully inclusive education system for the long term. It would be a sound investment, as research shows that every £1 invested in healthy school meals could deliver £1.71 in increased educational outcomes, better health and longer-term economic benefits.”

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4 Responses to Khan guarantees London primaries free school meals for a year

  1. Bloody Khan, coming over here, feeding our schoolchildren, hope the GLA Tories stop him, I fought in two world wars, etc

  2. Just a reminder, ‘Mayor Khan’ is paid double ‘Mayor Perry’s bung

  3. Dave Russell says:

    This is blatant pandering for votes when he next stands for Mayor.
    By all means pay for meals for children of all ages from poorer families, but those who can pay should pay, otherwise it’s a “bung”.

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