Sadiq Khan praised for extending free school meals to every primary school child in London

Khan announced a £130 million package to fund free meals for the 270,000 state primary school children in London

Sadiq Khan

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has been praised for extending free school meals to every primary school child in London, as child poverty continues to rise amid the cost of living crisis.

Khan announced a £130 million package to fund free meals for the 270,000 state primary school children in London who do not already receive free school meals, of whom an estimated 100,000 live in poverty.

The government has been under growing pressure to extend free school meals to all children living in poverty, with the Food Foundation estimating that 800,000 children in England are living in poverty but do not qualify for Free School Meals.

Rishi Sunak and the Tories continue to reject the demands, pushing the line instead that the best route out of poverty for families is through work. This completely overlooks the fact that 56% of people in poverty in the UK are in a working family and 7 in 10 children in child poverty are in a family where at least one parent works.

With the Tory government refusing to step into help, Khan has said that his scheme would be funded out of higher-than-expected collections of business rates and council tax, and would be for the 2023-24 academic year only. City hall says that the package is expected to save families around £440 per child across the year.

Khan, who himself received free school meals as a child, told BBC Breakfast: “We know there are children and its heartbreaking, because they’ve not brought in a packed lunch, they’re not receiving free school meals and they’re pretending to eat so as not to be embarrassed.

“I know when I was a child and I’m now 52 years old but I still remember the embarrassment, the shame at me receiving a free school meal token and the majority of my peers not. That stayed with me for 40-50 years and so by having it universal for all of our children to receive free school meals, it gets rid of the stigma and shame but also it means all of our children will be eating together, great social skills but it also means better educational attainment.”

Khan’s announcement was met with praise from charities and campaigners.

Victoria Benson, Chief Executive of Gingerbread, the single parent charity, said: “The cost of living crisis has been brutal for single parents and has meant that children have gone without basic essentials because household budgets have been stretched beyond breaking point.

“We have heard from so many single parents that they have simply been unable to afford the huge price increases which we have seen over the past year with the result that many of them, or their children, have had to go without food.  It will be a huge relief to many parents that their child will now be fed at school and we welcome the Mayor’s free school meals initiative and hope it will mean fewer children in London will experience hunger.”

Anna Taylor, Executive Director, The Food Foundation, said: “We applaud London’s Mayor for taking timely action to support families fighting the cost of living by ensuring every primary school pupil gets a nutritious lunch, no matter their background.

“This is a monumental step forward for safeguarding children’s diets, well-being and learning across the capital. However, outside of London, hundreds of thousands of children living in poverty still don’t qualify for a Free School Meal. Central Government must now honour its levelling up commitment by investing in Free School Meal expansion for every community in the upcoming budget. We know this policy has resounding support in every corner of the UK.”

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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