- City Hall analysis shows that an extra 270,000 primary school children in London would benefit if free school meals were made universal
- Universal free school meals in primary schools could save those families up to £440 across the academic year
- Sadiq renews call for urgent Government intervention as children return to school with cost of living to rise sharply again
- Thousands of schoolchildren across London live in poverty but do not receive free school meals, due to restrictive eligibility criteria and lack of universal provision
An extra 270,000 children in London could receive free school meals, saving families struggling with the cost of living up to £440 a year per child, if provision was extended to all primary school pupils, research from the Mayor Sadiq Khan reveals.
The Mayor is reiterating his urgent call on the Government to make healthy free school meals available to all primary school children to help with the spiralling cost-of-living, with thousands of schoolchildren across London living in poverty who aren’t in receipt of free school meals.
To be eligible for free school meals, a household on universal credit in England must earn less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including benefits), regardless of the number of children in the family. This low threshold means that many children from working families in poverty aren’t entitled to free school meals, despite being unable to meet the costs.
As well as helping all families with the cost of living, making free school meals universal helps reduce stigma associated with eligibility and therefore boosts take-up among families who need them most.
The Mayor wants immediate action to combat the surging costs of food and energy, as the energy price cap increases to £3549 in October, UK inflation reaches 10.1 per cent and is predicted to skyrocket to 18 per cent next year.
To further support families, Sadiq is also calling for and immediate energy bills freeze and a ‘Lifeline Tariff’ which will allow a minimum floor of domestic energy use before charges begin for the most vulnerable people in London  He is also lobbying the Government to give him the power to freeze rents in the capital for two years, saving struggling Londoners almost £3,000 on average.
The Mayor is doing all he can to help Londoners during these tough economic times. In April he launched his Cost-of-Living Hub to help Londoners access information, financial support and advice to help manage household finances. His Warmer Homes Programme provides free heating, insulation and ventilation improvements for Londoners who have low incomes. Sadiq also Co-Chairs the London Living Wage City Programme that seeks to increase the numbers of employers paying their staff fairly and has overseen the number of London Living Wage employers quadruple to 2,500 since he was elected in May 2016.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Families are sending their children back to school this week and many will be wondering how they’ll be able to keep putting food on the table as the cost-of-living crisis worsens.
“The Government must act now to introduce universal free school meals for all primary school children. This would help build a better London for everyone, saving families hundreds of pounds a year, ensuring all primary pupils are eating a healthy, nutritious meal at school and also eliminating the stigma associated with being eligible for free school meals, to increase uptake among those who need it most.”
Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation said: All children should have an equal chance to thrive and be healthy, no matter where they live or how much their parents earn. By making school meals free for all children the government can deliver on its levelling up promise and help children achieve their true potential – especially children living in the most deprived parts of London.
The Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz OBE said: “In Newham, we rightly spend £6 million every year through our universal Eat for Free programme which means that all nursery and primary aged children enjoy a free nutritious and healthy meal at school, regardless of their family income. It’s a lifeline for families in our borough, who are at the coalface of this cost of living crisis, because it saves them £500 every year in food costs.
“Households in Newham and across London are bracing themselves for the crippling impact of high bills this autumn because of extreme energy costs. They shouldn’t face the choice between feeding their kids or heating their homes and this is why it is crucial a universal free school meals policy for every child in London is put in place now.”
Ensuring children receive a hot, nutritious meal at lunchtime will be a lifeline for many Londoners facing extreme cost-of-living pressures this school term – many of whom are having to spend less on both cooking and eating at home to make ends meet. The Government should immediately prioritise the introduction of free school meals for the thousands of children who are living in poverty, but who don’t currently qualify, as a first step towards rolling out free school meals to all children in primary and secondary schools.