Sadiq Khan’s free school meals start this week as new figures show extent of the cost-of-living crisis
City Hall says this will save families around £440 per child across the year amid the spiralling cost of living crisis.
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The mayor’s office said it is estimated the one-off £135m funding could help more than 270,000 children in the capital during the 2023-24 academic year.
It comes as latest City Hall polling from YouGov Plc reveals that around a third (32%) of parents and guardians of children between five and 11 years say they are ‘financially struggling’, including around one in six (16%) going without basic needs or relying on debt to pay for them.
In a separate question, around a third (31%) say they are buying less food and essentials.
The mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who received free school meals as a child, said: “I know from personal experience what a lifeline free school meals can be and I’m immensely proud that our unprecedented funding means that hundreds of thousands of children across London’s primary schools are now benefiting from them.
“As the new academic year begins, for the first time ever all children at state primary schools in every borough will be enjoying a free lunch at school every day – helping families struggling with the cost-of-living and ensuring children don’t go hungry.”
The funding will deliver free school meals to pupils in Years 3-6 of state-funded schools for a year from September with boroughs receiving £2.65 per meal.
Children in years 3 to 6 in primary school years had previously only received free school meals if they lived in households on universal credit earning less than £7,400 a year - after tax and not including benefits, and regardless of the number of children in the family.
Chef Jamie Oliver MBE said: “Nourishing our kids with nutritious and delicious food at lunch time is an investment in their future, boosts our economy and sets them up for a healthier and more productive life.
“Sadiq Khan has recognised this by giving all primary school children a free school meal and now we need politicians across all parties to put child health above politics and act now.”
Chef Tom Kerridge said: “I’m pleased that the mayor of London has introduced free school meals for primary school children in London. So many families are struggling to get by and particularly worry about how to feed their children in the current climate, so the mayor’s expansion of free school meals will make a huge difference to them."
The launch follows similar decisions by London councils in Newham, Islington, Southwark, Westminster and Tower Hamlets to offer their own universal primary school free school meals.
City Hall says funding has been allocated to these boroughs as if they were not currently providing this function.
The intention is to encourage them to use these funds to support families in financial hardship as a result of the cost-of-living crisis.
Emma Best AM, City Hall Conservatives health spokesperson previously said: “While I welcome more children having access to free school meals this year, the reality is that many lower income families will be hit hard by a 57% increase in Sadiq Khan’s Council Tax since 2016 and his £12.50 daily ULEZ charge.
“This one-off package has completely missed secondary school pupils, meaning that lower income parents of older children are paying for wealthier families’ younger children.
“If the mayor genuinely wants to help the poorest families, he should be focusing on those most in need across all schools.”