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£130m Towards Free School Meals for Primary Schoolchildren in London

Free school meals for primary schoolchildren in London

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced a historic £130 million emergency scheme to provide free school meals to every primary school pupil in the capital for the 2023/2024 academic year. The proposal aims to support families facing spiralling living costs and provide healthy free school meals to all primary school pupils for one year from September. The move will help around 270,000 primary school children and save families around £440 per child across the year.

The need for free school meals

Mr Khan has repeatedly called on the government to make free school meals available to all, as research has shown that hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren in poverty 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, 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. The proposal is one-off funding from additional business rates income. Sadiq is clear that he is only able to provide help that should be coming from the government for one year.

Schooling and the cost-of-living crisis

The landmark intervention is the latest in a long line of commitments from the Mayor to help Londoners navigate the cost of living crisis. As well as investing £3.46 billion into building genuinely affordable homes for Londoners, the Mayor is currently spending more than £80 million to help those struggling with the rising cost of living, including more than £50 million to tackle fuel poverty through the Mayor’s Warmer Homes programme and energy advice services, more than £20 million to improve security for private renters and house Londoners who are rough sleeping or homeless, more than £5 million to connect Londoners with welfare advice, and £400,000 to tackle food insecurity. He is spending £400 million on skills and employment programmes to support Londoners to find more secure work.

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. 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.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

The Mayor’s commitment

The Mayor is determined to make London the best place to grow up and has committed to supporting young Londoners. He has invested £70 million over three years through the Young Londoners Fund, which has created positive opportunities for over 140,000 disadvantaged young Londoners, and has so far invested over £7 million in providing quality mentoring opportunities to 30,000 disadvantaged young people through the New Deal for Young People, on course to reach 100,000 by the end of 2024. He has also protected free travel for under 18s when the government withdrew funding, and partnered with The London Marathon Charitable Trust and Sport England, and strategic partners London Sport and London Marathon Events to launch a £17 million fund to support underserved young Londoners through the power of sport and physical activity, and helped introduce more than 500 School Streets to help reduce toxic air pollution, carbon emissions and road danger for young children.

This wonderful news will bring relief to millions of families and schools across London. Too many children have been missing out on the nutrition they need to thrive, due to restrictive eligibility criteria and an onerous application process. Thanks to the vision of London’s Mayor, from September every primary school child in the capital will have a hot, healthy school meal. We hope the government will follow London’s lead and expand free school meals to more children nationwide, but for now three cheers for the Mayor!

Stephanie Slater, Founder & Chief executive of School Food Matters

The emergency scheme proposed by Sadiq will ensure that every primary school child in London receives a free, nutritious meal each day, helping them to concentrate and learn better. Free school meals have been shown to improve the health and wellbeing of children and reduce the stigma that can be associated with being singled out as low income. By making the meals available to all, take-up among families who need them most can be boosted.

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