The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has today announced historic plans to continue funding free school meals for London’s state primary schoolchildren for the next academic year as the cost-of-living crisis continues to hit families across the country.
The Mayor is proposing to spend £140m in his 2024/25 budget to extend free school meals for another year from September, with the meals helping parents financially, reducing stigma for those who receive them and helping to improve and improving nutrition and school engagement.
The move will extend his unprecedented £135m programme which is currently helping to deliver meals to up to 287,000 children each day and has funded more than 17million meals already between September and Christmas.
Sadiq’s proposed extension will help hundreds of thousands of children who don’t qualify for Government help receive the meals for another year – saving families up to £1,000 over the two years per child as they struggle with the cost-of-living crisis.
A report by the Child Poverty Action Group and the National Education Union has shown that providing all children free school meals has a wide range of benefits.
It improves financial and psychological security for parents as they don’t have to worry about the cost of food at school, improves nutrition and school engagement with improved concentration and engagement from pupils, and reduces stigma for children who would ordinarily get means-tested meals.
It also improves relationships between families and schools as there is no need to collect lunch money or administer debt, changes eating habits as pupils try new foods and helps create a richer school life, with families able to invest in extra-curricular activities.
The announcement comes as new polling from YouGov, commissioned by City Hall, has found that more than a third (35 per cent) of parents or carers of children under 18 are buying less food and essentials, with 41 per cent using less water, energy or fuel to help them manage living costs.
Three in ten (30 per cent) say they are ‘financially struggling’. Separate polling from YouGov commissioned by City Hall has shown that parents whose children have school dinners overwhelmingly (92 per cent) support universal free school meals, with that it saves them time (71 per cent), that they are healthy (62 per cent) and that they are free (62 per cent) among the top reasons why they chose to have the meals.
As a result of the Mayor’s current funding, this school year is the first time ever that free school meals have been available to all primary-aged pupils in state-funded mainstream schools, special schools and pupil referral units in the capital.
Children in Years 3 to 6 in primary school had previously only received free school meals 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. That means, without the Mayor’s additional funding, many children from working families in poverty were not able to receive free school meals.
The proposed new funding will see boroughs offered £3 per meal to help to continue to deliver the meals from September. This is 18.5 per cent higher than the amount they receive from Government, who previously increased its funding from £2.41 to £2.53 per meal this year following the Mayor’s unprecedented intervention.
Sadiq’s free school meals funding is a key part of his programme to support Londoners with the cost-of-living crisis. That includes investing £3.46bn into building the genuinely affordable homes Londoners need and £400m on skills and employment programmes to support Londoners to find more secure work, as well as more than £80m to help those struggling with the rising cost of living to tackle fuel poverty, supporting private renters, connecting Londoners to welfare advice and tackling food insecurity.
The Mayor has also provided an emergency funding package of more than £3.5m that has helped to provide more then 10m free meals during school holidays and at weekends to low-income Londoners struggling with the spiralling cost of living since April.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Delivering free school meals has been one of my proudest moment as Mayor as I have seen the difference it has made to the children receiving them and to their families. I am thrilled to announce my intention to extend this lifeline for families for yet another year.
“I know from personal experience what a difference these meals can make and it’s been fantastic to hear from teachers how much better children are performing and also how much parents and their children have benefited, with parents not having to worry about how to provide their children with a healthy, nutritious meal during the school day. Sadly Londoners continue to struggle with the cost-of-living crisis and with the Government failing to step forward to deliver these meals, we have worked hard to find the money to provide this vital funding for the next academic year.
“I will continue to do all I can to help families cope with the cost-of-living crisis as we build a fairer and more prosperous London for all.”
Chef and Campaigner Jamie Oliver said: “Huge kudos to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, for extending free school meals across London for another academic year. Not only will it help families make ends meet, but evidence proves that children having access to delicious, nutritious food at school is the foundation of their wellbeing and educational success. It’s more than just nourishing their bodies – it’s a fundamental support system that significantly impacts their future. At a time when so many families are struggling financially, supporting free school meals has never been more vital. It’s a lifeline for children, providing the nourishment they need to thrive, despite these challenging times.”