Sadiq Khan announces free school meals for all primary school children in London for a year
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The mayor’s office said it is estimated the one-off funding could help more than 270,000 children in the capital during the 2023-24 academic year.
City Hall says this will save families around £440 per child across the year amid the spiralling cost of living crisis.
Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren live in poverty but are not eligible to receive them because of the government’s “restrictive” eligibility criteria, the mayor’s office said.
A household on universal credit must make less than £7,400 a year – after tax and not including benefits – to be eligible.
The mayor, who received free school meals as a child, 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."
He continued: "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."
Mr Khan is due to officially announce the plans during a visit to his old school, Fircroft Primary in Tooting, south-west London, later.
The scheme will be funded from additional business rates income.
The launch follows similar decisions by London councils in Newham, Islington, Southwark and Tower Hamlets to offer their own universal primary school free school meals.
Last month, Westminster City Council also began providing free school meals for primary pupils in a scheme set to run for at least 18 months.
The announcement has been welcomed by charities and unions.
Victoria Benson, CE of Gingerbread, the single parent charity, said: “The cost of living crisis has been brutal for single parents and has meant that children have gone without basic essentials because household budgets have been stretched beyond breaking point.
“It will be a huge relief to many parents that their child will now be fed at school and we welcome the Mayor’s free school meals initiative and hope it will mean fewer children in London will experience hunger.”
Barbara Crowther from the Children’s Food Campaign said: "We applaud the mayor for announcing this vital nutritional safety net for every single primary school child in London for the coming academic year.
"However, healthy school food for all must not just be an emergency measure. It should be a core part of a fully inclusive education system for the long term."
Meanwhile Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary at the National Education Union (NEU), said the scheme would be "a much-needed lifeline" that could also help "attainment and educational outcomes".
"Children who have access to a healthy hot meal every day are better able to focus, connect with their peers and build bright futures", he said.
"The government must now end its inaction and commit to funding free school meals for all in primary schools across the rest of the country, and long term."
Dame Emma Thompson said: “This initiative could not be more welcome or more timely.
“The fact that it is needed at all is testament to the damaging policies of the last 20 years.
“It is therefore essential that during this year we fight for the right of our children to a proper meal at school, un-stigmatised by the free school meals label which causes so much distress.”
A Department for Education spokesman said more than two million schoolchildren had received a free meal since 2010, "thanks to the introduction of universal infant free school meals plus generous protections put in place as benefit recipients move across to universal credit".
"Over a third of pupils in England now receive free school meals in education settings, compared with 1.1 million in 2009, and we have made a further investment in the national school breakfast programme to extend the programme for another year, backed by up to £30m," he continued.
Emma Best AM, City Hall Conservatives health spokesperson, 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.”
The Mayor’s scheme is proposed as part of his final budget which will be considered by the London Assembly on February 23.
A City Hall spokesperson said: “The final Budget takes into account that council tax and business rates returns from local authorities are higher than were forecast in the Mayor’s draft Budget proposals earlier this year.
“This additional proposed spending is principally driven by business rates due to the stronger economic position of central London than previously reported in prior years.”