Quarter-of-a-million children to get free school meals thanks to mayor’s offer

More than 13,000 Barnet children will benefit this year from the £135m City Hall scheme aiming to reduce impact of cost-of-living crisis, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Sadiq Khan visits his old school, Fircroft Primary in Tooting (credit Noah Vickers/LDRS)
Sadiq Khan visits his old school, Fircroft Primary in Tooting (credit Noah Vickers/LDRS)

New figures reveal how many children are set to benefit from London mayor Sadiq Khan’s upcoming free school meal programme in each borough.

Up to 287,000 primary school pupils across the capital are expected to receive free lunches through the £135m programme, which will operate on a universal basis and run throughout the 2023/24 academic year.

The highest single number of children to benefit are found in Barnet, where 13,495 pupils will receive the meals, followed by Bromley (13,321) and Redbridge (13,028). In Enfield, the figure is 12,202, in Haringey 8,528, and in Waltham Forest 9,818.

City Hall says that thanks to the policy, families will save “upwards of £440 per child”.

The government already provides free school meals on a universal basis for children up to and including year two. But after that point, free lunches are only offered to children from households receiving certain benefits. For households on Universal Credit, they must earn less than £7,400 a year – after tax and not including benefits, and regardless of the number of children in the family – in order for their children to be eligible for the meals.

The lunches administered through the mayor’s scheme will therefore provide for children in years three, four, five and six.

Five London councils – Islington, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Westminster – currently provide universal free school meals for all primary school children in their boroughs. City Hall said funding is still being allocated to these councils as if they were not currently providing the meals – with the intention being that they can use the funds to support other means of helping families with the cost-of-living crisis.

Khan said: “I know from personal experience what a lifeline free school meals can be, which is why I’m determined to do all I can to help families across London who are struggling during this escalating cost-of-living crisis.

“I’m proud that hundreds of thousands of children will benefit from the unprecedented funding when they return to school after the summer holidays, and that parents in every borough will know their children are receiving a good meal at lunchtime.

“By ensuring children don’t go hungry in the classroom and helping their families, we can build a better and more prosperous city for all Londoners.”

City Hall said at the time of announcing the policy: “This 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.”

But Susan Hall, the Labour mayor’s Conservative rival in next year’s City Hall election, has said she would keep the policy in place through to the 2024/25 school year “at a minimum”, if she is elected. Though she has called the policy “imperfect” – saying that it could have been better targeted at “those most in need” – she has pledged to keep the programme going on a universal basis “for as long as the cost of living situation requires it”.

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