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London Mayor’s own experience of free school meals inspires him to help today’s youngsters

Image: iStockphoto

As a child, Sadiq Khan was one of many youngsters who benefited from him receiving free school meals. Several decades later, as Mayor of London, he has vowed to help children and their families living in similar circumstances.

With alarming new figures showing the extent to which parents, guardians and carers across London are struggling with the cost of living, the Mayor has announced funding for free school meals from next year.

As a one-off, he is making available an ’emergency’ £135 million to help up to 270,000 primary school children eat for free in state funded schools in the capital from September, saving families an average of £440 per child across the year.

‘Financially struggling’

It follows a survey which shows that around one in six parents in London (16 per cent) of children between five and 11 years are going without essentials, including food, electricity or gas, with more than one in three (36 per cent) buying less food and essentials. More than one in three (36 per cent) parents and guardians of children between five and 11 years say they are ‘financially struggling’, with around one in six (15 per cent) going without basic needs or relying on debt to pay for them.

Mayor Khan says he is ‘determined to do all he can’ to help Londoners struggling with the cost of living crisis, and so has has offered every district across the city funding to deliver free schools meals to pupils in Years 3-6 of state-funded schools for a year.

Currently, children in those school years only receive free school meals if they live in households on universal credit earning less than £7,400 a year, and that is after tax and not including benefits, and regardless of the number of children in the family. Boroughs will be given £2.65 per meal in funding, which is higher than the amount they currently receive from Government.

“It is truly shocking that so many families across the capital are struggling to feed themselves as they deal with the escalating cost-of-living crisis,” said Mayor Khan. “It simply cannot be right that in a city as prosperous as ours around one in six parents are going without essentials to get by.

‘I know what a lifetime of free school meals is like’

“I’m determined to do all I can to help and know from personal experience what a lifeline free school meals can be. 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.”

Barbara Crowther, of the Children’s Food Campaign, described this one-off fund as ‘truly groundbreaking moment’ for London’s primary schools.

“We know that when all children eat well, it leads to happier, healthier classrooms with more concentration and better learning. We applaud all the hardworking local government staff, school leaders and catering partners who will be working around the clock to turn this funding into good food on the plate when kids come back in September.

“However, it still leaves a school food postcode lottery in the rest of the country, and we also need to find solutions for secondary school children whose families are living in poverty but are still not eligible for free school meals. We hope this move by the Mayor of London will lead to a serious rethink of national Government policy because every child in every place deserves the same nutritional support to learn and achieve whilst in school.”

Author: Simon Weedy

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