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London families save £400+ per child as free school meals extended

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

An extra 287,000 state primary school children in London are now eligible for free school meals, helping families save upwards of £440 per child.

An ‘unprecedented’ £135m in emergency funding from the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan means pupils in every year of state-funded primary and special schools can benefit from free school meals this academic year.

Currently, all children in reception, year one and year two are eligible for free school meals. Pupils in years three to six in primary school only received free food if they lived in households on universal credit earning less than £7,400 a year – after tax and not including benefits, and regardless of the number of children in the family. This meant many children from working families in poverty weren’t entitled to free school meals.

In February this year, Khan proposed the free school meals extension in a bid to support families struggling with the spiralling cost of living.

The Mayor revealed every borough in the capital has received £2.65 per meal in funding to enable schools to deliver the meals over the next year. This is higher than the amount they receive from the Government – recently increased from £2.41 to £2.53 per meal.

Overall, the universal basis of free school meals is expected to save families upwards of £440 per child.

Khan said: “I know from personal experience what a lifeline free school meals can be and I’m immensely proud that our unprecedented funding means that hundreds of thousands of children across London’s primary schools are now benefitting from them.

“As the new academic year begins, for the first time ever all children at state primary schools in every borough will be enjoying a free lunch at school every day – helping families struggling with the cost of living and ensuring children don’t go hungry. It is shocking that families across the capital are struggling to feed themselves as they try to deal with the cost-of-living crisis, and I will continue to do all I can to support Londoners as we build a better and more prosperous city for all.”

It comes as latest City Hall polling from YouGov revealed that around a third of parents and guardians of children between five and 11 years said they are ‘financially struggling’, including around one in six going without basic needs or relying on debt to pay for them.

‘Free school meals across the whole education system’

The move has been widely praised, but there are now calls for this to be rolled out nationwide, not just in the capital.

Barbara Crowther, children’s food campaign manager at Sustain, said: “This is a truly historic moment for London. It’s brilliant that every primary schoolchild in a London state school is now on an equal footing at lunchtime, with healthy, hot meals available to all, regardless of background or family income and means testing. This is how it should be, not just in London but across the whole of our education system – good nutritious meals are the building blocks of more better energy levels and concentration, improved educational outcomes and a healthier future for children.

“We applaud the Mayor of London for saying yes to school food for all primary children, plus all the school staff and caterers working incredibly hard and creatively to turn that vision into healthy food on the table. Now we need all political parties to agree that this is the right and fair thing to do across the whole nation, to end the school meal postcode lottery and instead feed the future.”

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, said: “Nourishing our kids with nutritious and delicious food at lunch time is an investment in their future, boosts our economy and sets them up for a healthier and more productive life. Sadiq Khan has recognised this by giving all primary school children a free school meal and now we need politicians across all parties to put child health above politics and act now.”