Every London primary school pupil to get free school meals next academic year. Will this roll out nationwide?
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced a £130m emergency scheme to help families with the spiralling cost of living by ensuring that every primary schoolchild 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 universally 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 extending free school meals to children who do not currently receive them potentially saves families up to £440 an academic year on the cost of one child’s hot school lunch. The average cost of a hot school meal for a primary school child is between £2.25 - £2.35 in London.
Sadiq – who received free school meals as a child – has repeatedly called on the Government to make the meals available to all, as research has shown that hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren live in poverty but do not receive them due to the Government’s restrictive eligibility criteria and lack of universal provision. 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. This means that many children from working families in poverty aren’t entitled to free school meals.
Given the Government’s inaction, and the soaring cost of living hitting London’s families particularly hard, the Mayor has now proposed a plan to make the meals available – on a universal basis – to all of the capital’s primary schoolchildren for one full school year. 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 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.
Sadiq made the announcement of the emergency funding as he visited his old school Fircroft Primary, in Tooting. This is one-off funding from additional business rates income. Sadiq is clear that he is only able to provide the help that should be coming from the Government for one year.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The cost of living crisis means families and children across our city are in desperate need of additional support. I have repeatedly urged the Government to provide free school meals to help already stretched families, but they have simply failed to act. “This is why I’m stepping forward with an emergency £130m scheme that will ensure every single primary pupil in the capital receives free school meals. This will save families hundreds of pounds over the year, ensuring parents aren’t worrying about how they’re going to feed their children. It will also guarantee every primary school student a healthy, nutritious meal – meaning they don’t go hungry in the classroom and can better concentrate on their studies. “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.
“Supporting London’s families through this cost of living crisis and helping ensure our children are properly fed is vital as we continue striving to build a better London for everyone – a city that is fairer, safer and more prosperous for all.”
It's hoped this scheme may be able to be rolled out nationwide by other councils, or preferably via new government action, ensuring that all children are offered a free school meal, no matter their family's financial situation.