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Tower Hamlets Council: Free Meals for Secondary School Students 

free school meals tower hamlets

Tower Hamlets Council has become the first local authority in England to provide all pupils in the borough with free school meals up to the age of 16. 

Since 2014, the council has provided all primary school age children with free school meals, but this extension of the plan will be implemented from September 2023. 

Currently, Tower Hamlets serves approximately 16,500 meals a day to 57 schools and nurseries.

Free meals for all children

Tower Hamlets was among the first few London boroughs to roll out free school meals for all children. After a recent cabinet meeting, the decision to grant all students up to 16 with free school meals was made and £5.7m was included in the council’s 2023/24 budget to carry this out. This funding is part of the council’s wider investment in young people which also includes £13.7m for revitalising youth services,  £1.1m to re-introduce Education Maintenance Allowances and University Bursaries; and £1.1m for children with special educational and additional needs (SEND).

Prior to making the decision to extend free school meals to secondary schools, research was conducted, for example, feasibility surveys were completed in all secondary schools across Tower Hamlets to examine their capability to deliver the plan. A phased approach has been recommended to enable schools to proceed with the plan by taking into account their differing circumstances.

By April 2024, the aim is for almost 38,000 pupils in Tower Hamlets to have access to free school meals across primary and secondary education. Crucially, household income is not considered so eligibility will be universal across the area. 

Responses

Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets has celebrated the decision on Twitter. He also said that he was delighted that secondary school pupils will benefit from the same rewards as primary school pupils. “There are a number of financial, health and academic benefits to providing universal free school meals which is why this policy is a priority for the council”.

“It helps mitigate the impacts of household food insecurity and reduces health inequalities, whilst saving families time and money.” he continued. “In Tower Hamlets, the scheme provides a financial saving of £550 per year, per child – providing essential support for families during the cost-of-living crisis.”

Cllr Maium Talukdar, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Education, Youth and Lifelong Learning, said that this scheme will help to tackle health issues and inequalities in the borough. He also asserted that “secondary school is such an important part of young people’s lives as they take their GCSEs and start to plan for their futures. providing a free, healthy lunch is part of the council’s wider commitment to giving young people the tools they need to be successful in whatever they choose to do.”

Final thought

Tower Hamlets has a poverty rate of 39%, the highest in London and therefore one of the most deprived areas in England. Providing all school pupils up to 16 with free school meals is a positive initiative which will definitely help families, especially in light of the cost-of-living crisis.

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