Jamie Oliver calls for “politicians across all parties to put child health above politics” and give free school meals to primary school children nationwide
Up to 287,000 primary school children across London will receive free school meals for the 2023/24 academic year following the rollout of a £135 million programme from Mayor Sadiq Khan.
All pupils in every year of state-funded primary schools, special schools and pupil referral units will receive free school lunches, with each borough receiving £2.65 per meal in funding.
It comes as YouGov figures reveal 32% of parents of children aged 5-11 years in the capital are ‘financially struggling’. This funding will support families with the cost of living crisis, potentially saving over £440 per child.
“It is shocking that families across the capital are struggling to feed themselves as they try to deal with the cost-of-living crisis,” said Khan. “As the new academic year begins, for the first time ever, all children at state primary schools in every borough will be enjoying a free lunch at school every day – helping families struggling with the cost of living and ensuring children don’t go hungry.”
Children’s health has been worsening as a result of hunger and poor nutrition, according to 65% of respondents to the National Education Union’s No Child Left Behind survey.
“Nourishing our kids with nutritious and delicious food at lunchtime is an investment in their future, boosts our economy and sets them up for a healthier and more productive life,” said Jamie Oliver MBE. Oliver is urging “politicians across all parties to put child health above politics” and give all primary school children in England free school meals.
“While his one-year intervention is cause for celebration, this should be more than just an emergency measure.”
Barbara Crowther, Children’s Food Campaign Manager, Sustain, describes the funding as “a truly historic moment for London.”
She added, “Good nutritious meals are the building blocks of better energy levels and concentration, improved educational outcomes and a healthier future for children. Now we need all political parties to agree that this is the right and fair thing to do across the whole nation, to end the school meal postcode lottery and instead feed the future.”
Anna Taylor, Executive Director, The Food Foundation says, “The evidence is clear: nutritious Free School Meals make children healthier, happier and perform better in school and for many of our children it may be their main source of hot, nutritious food. The Mayor has recognised this with his game-changing policy for London. While his one-year intervention is cause for celebration, this should be more than just an emergency measure.”
Southwark Council, where 38% of children live in poverty, has provided universal free school meals for all primary school children for the last decade. They will extend this to secondary school children whose parents receive Universal Credit but miss out on free school meals. This will be funded through savings resulting from the Mayor’s programme.
Cllr Kieron Williams, Leader of Southwark Council said: “As the cost of living spirals, these free nutritious meals are becoming a lifeline for ever more families. With two in every five children in London now living in poverty, and many more families only just getting by, you can see why.”
Jessica Calnan, Assistant Headteacher at Albion Primary School in Southwark said: “We have seen over time that well-nourished children remain focused during their afternoon lessons and the benefits to families are clear in the current cost of living crisis.”
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