Cost of living crisis: Sadiq Khan calls for free school meals for all London kids

“Free school meals were something my family relied upon – and every child in London deserves that safety net.”

Sadiq Khan is calling for universal free school meals for all children returning to school this week, as the cost of living crisis escalates.

All infant school pupils currently receive free school meals, but only those from the most disadvantaged families qualify in older years.

Islington, Southwark, Newham and Tower Hamlets councils currently provide free school meals to all pupils.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. Credit: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Now the mayor wants the government to expand this scheme for all children in London - and the rest of the UK - and make free meal vouchers available for those in most need during the school holidays.

According to official government figures, the proportion of all pupils eligible for free school meals increased over the last 12 months from 20.8% in January 2021 to 22.5% in the same month this year.

With energy bills set to soar in autumn, this number is likely to increase.

The number of people using a food bank has also risen nationally from around one in 10 in March 2020 to almost one in six in March 2022, according to research from the Food Standards Agency.

Sadiq Khan is calling for universal free schools meals for all children

Mayor Khan said: “Free school meals were something my family relied upon – and every child in London deserves that safety net.

“With the summer holidays on the horizon it is essential that the government act now to reinstate the meal voucher system to give families dignity and nutritional choice over the summer.

“This should then be followed by the introduction of universal free school meals for all primary school children from the start of the new school year in September.

“Multiple London councils are already leading the way on this and showing what can be done if we put the health and wellbeing of our young people first in such perilous economic times.

“It is time for the government to step up.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “More than 2,000 schools are currently signed up to the National School Breakfast Programme.

“We are investing up to £24m in the programme and expanded eligibility in January to reach more schools in disadvantaged areas.

“We are also providing 1.9 million children with free school meals, as well as welfare support for families in need through the household support fund.”