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Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has announced that all children in London primary schools will receive free school dinners from September.
School Food Matters spoke with head teachers in London this morning:
Jared Brading, Executive Headteacher, Federation of Sacred Heart & St Mary’s RC Primary Schools, Battersea, LB Wandsworth says, “This is truly breathtaking news from City Hall. At a stroke the Mayor has lifted a huge burden from the shoulders of parents. The cost of living crisis is hitting all families and this will mean so much to those with school age children. You can judge a society by the way it treats its children, and the Mayor has made London world leading again. School caterers and cooks will rise to the challenge of delivering on this pledge.”
Reema Reid, Headteacher of Hollydale Primary School in LB Southwark, says, “This policy will make a huge difference to families across London. In Southwark, we’ve benefited from free school meals for all our primary children since 2013 and it’s been a game-changer, particularly for big families. Finding dinner money for three or four children is a real struggle, and before meals became free in Southwark, we saw some very unhealthy packed lunches in the dining hall. What great news that every child in a London primary school will have a hot, nutritious meal to support their learning.”
Stephanie Slater, Founder/ Chief Executive of School Food Matters, says, “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.”
Claire Atchia McMaster, director of income and external affairs at national poverty charity Turn2us, says, “We welcome Sadiq Khan’s plans to introduce universal free school meals to primary school children in London. Too many people in our own communities are in financial crisis, or weighed down by the fear of tipping into it. Implementing free school meals will be one plate less spinning for families trying to keep their heads above water.”
“Measures like this ensure all children get the nutrition they need to be healthy and learn. We welcome a policy that reduces the financial burden on parents and, crucially, reduces the shame and stigma unfairly associated with not having enough.”
This announcement follows years of campaigning by School Food Matters and others, recognising both the urgent need and the numerous benefits. Introduction of universal free school meals is the leading ask of the School Food Review Working Group.
Research by Child Poverty Action Group revealed that 41% of children living in poverty in London are currently not eligible for free school dinners. This is because of the government’s draconian eligibility criteria, which require families to be in receipt of universal credit and have a total household income below £7,400 per year.
Local authorities in the London Boroughs of Islington, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Westminster already fund school meals for all their primary school pupils. Tower Hamlets is going even further and planning free secondary school meals from this September, an initiative already piloted in Hammersmith and Fulham.
We hope that this new funding from the Mayor will open up opportunities for other London boroughs to explore free meals for secondary students, to provide a truly universal service.
Read MoneyMagpie’s guide to saving money on food here.