The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has today announced an historic £130m emergency scheme to help families with the spiralling cost of living by ensuring that every primary schoolchild in London will receive free school meals in the next academic year.
The Mayor is stepping in with the one-off proposal to ensure that healthy free school meals are universally available to all primary school pupils for one year from September due to the extreme pressures currently facing households across the capital.
The unprecedented move will help around 270,000 primary school children and save families around £440 per child across the year.
Sadiq – who received free school meals as a child – has repeatedly called on the Government to make the meals available to all as research has shown that hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren live in poverty but do not receive them due to the Government’s restrictive eligibility criteria and lack of universal provision. Currently a household on universal credit must earn less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including benefits), regardless of the number of children in the family, to be eligible. This means that many children from working families in poverty aren’t entitled to free school meals.
Given the Government’s inaction, and the soaring cost of living hitting London’s families particularly hard, the Mayor has now proposed a plan to make the meals available – on a universal basis – to all of the capital’s primary schoolchildren for one full school year.
As well as saving families hundreds of pounds per child, making free school meals available to all helps reduce the stigma that can be associated with being singled out as low income, therefore boosting take-up among families who need them most. The meals are also good for children’s health as they may be the child’s main source of hot, nutritious food. By ensuring they don’t go hungry, children are better equipped to learn.
Sadiq made the announcement of the emergency funding today as he visited his old school Fircroft Primary, in Tooting. 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.
This landmark intervention is the latest in a long line of commitments from the Mayor to help Londoners navigate the cost of living crisis. As well as investing £3.46bn into building the genuinely affordable homes Londoners need, the Mayor is currently spending more than £80m to help those struggling with the rising cost of living, including more than £50m to tackle fuel poverty through the Mayor’s Warmer Homes programme and energy advice services, more than £20m to improve security for private renters and house Londoners who are rough sleeping or homeless, more than £5m to connect Londoners with welfare advice, and £400,000 to tackle food insecurity. He is spending £400m on skills and employment programmes to support Londoners to find more secure work.
The Mayor is determined to make London the best place to grow up and has committed to supporting young Londoners and has invested £70m over three years through the Young Londoners Fund which created positive opportunities for over 140,000 disadvantaged young Londoners and has so far invested over £7m in providing quality mentoring opportunities to 30,000 disadvantaged young people through the New Deal for Young People, on course to reach 100,000 by end of 2024. He has also protected free travel for under 18s when the Government withdrew funding, and partnered with The London Marathon Charitable Trust and Sport England, and strategic partners London Sport and London Marathon Events to launch a £17m fund to support underserved young Londoners through the power of sport and physical activity, and helped introduce more than 500 School Streets to help reduce toxic air pollution, carbon emissions and road danger for young children.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The cost of living crisis means families and children across our city are in desperate need of additional support. I have repeatedly urged the Government to provide free school meals to help already stretched families, but they have simply failed to act.
“This is why I’m stepping forward with an emergency £130m scheme that will ensure every single primary pupil in the capital receives free school meals. This will save families hundreds of pounds over the year, ensuring parents aren’t worrying about how they’re going to feed their children. It will also guarantee every primary school student a healthy, nutritious meal – meaning they don’t go hungry in the classroom and can better concentrate on their studies.
“I know from personal experience that free school meals are a lifeline. My siblings and I depended on them to eat while at school and my parents relied on them to give our family a little extra breathing room financially. The difference they can make to children who are at risk of going hungry – and to families who are struggling to make ends meet – is truly game-changing.
“Supporting London’s families through this cost of living crisis and helping ensure our children are properly fed is vital as we continue striving to build a better London for everyone – a city that is fairer, safer and more prosperous for all.”
The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, said: “London’s children face some of the highest levels of deprivation anywhere in the country. We cannot consider ourselves a modern and progressive society if the most vulnerable among us are forced to go without basic food and nourishment. School should be a place where children can learn and grow; not worry about where their next hot meal is going to come from. As Londoners continue to struggle with the cost of living crisis, the prospect of saving hundreds of pounds will be welcome news to the capital’s families.”
Chef Tom Kerridge said: “All children deserve access to healthy, nutritious food and, at a particularly difficult time for many households and families, I’m pleased to lend my support to the Mayor’s initiative to ensure every primary school child in London has access to free school meals.”