Now council promises free school meals for secondary school pupils in poverty

Exclusive: Initiative to provide relief to thousands in new victory for Independent campaign

David Cohen
Campaigns Editor
Friday 24 February 2023 07:30 GMT
A school canteen chef serves children during their lunch break
A school canteen chef serves children during their lunch break (Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)

Southwark Council has agreed to provide free school meals for one year to local secondary school pupils whose parents live on Universal Credit but don’t receive free school meals, in another victory for our Feed the Future campaign.

The new initiative will provide relief to thousands of families struggling with the spiralling cost of living and follows Sunday’s announcement by the mayor of London, broken by The Independent, of his £130m emergency package to extend free school meals to every primary school child in London for one year.

Southwark, one of four London boroughs that already provides universal free school meals to all state primary school children along with Newham, Islington and Tower Hamlets, has agreed to divert funds from the £3.2m it will save as a result of the mayor’s scheme and will use it to bankroll a one-year free school meals pilot to support struggling families with secondary school children.

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Their pilot will run at the same time as the mayor’s programme for the 2023/24 academic year.

Cllr Kieron Williams, Leader of Southwark Council, said: “The money saved from the Mayor’s new proposal is approximately £3.2 million. It is too early to say whether this will be enough to fund ALL secondary school children in families whose parents receive Universal Credit but miss out on free school meals because they earn above the threshold, but the intention is to do so as part of a major pilot programme to tackle hunger in secondary schools and make sure that secondary school pupils do not go hungry.”

This move by Labour-controlled Southwark Council at their Budget setting assembly on Wednesday night was passed unanimously and will now put the spotlight on Newham, Islington and Tower Hamlets to do the same.

It will also heap further pressure on the government, which was heavily criticised by Sadiq Khan for its “failure to act”.

Southwark Council said they welcomed the mayor’s announcement this week as well as our Feed the Future campaign last October in which we highlighted the plight of 800,000 pupils in England – including 210,000 children in London – who live in households on universal credit but miss out on free school meals because their annual household income, excluding benefits, is over the threshold of £7,400.

Sadiq Khan has announced a £130m free school meals package
Sadiq Khan has announced a £130m free school meals package (Sky News)

This threshold applies irrespective of the number of children in the family and is causing deep hardship among families struggling with the spiralling cost of living.

Southwark called on the government to both follow the mayor’s lead and raise the threshold to £20,000. Cllr Williams said: “What the government needs to do is extend free school meals to all primary school children, like we have done in Southwark and the Mayor plans to do across London.

“We know that the current household income threshold for government-funded free school meals excludes many children in the borough whose families are struggling financially. We believe the threshold for eligibility of primary and secondary school students should be raised to those with a household income of £20,000 or under.”

Cllr Williams added: “We will be using the opportunity of this investment from the Mayor of London to tackle hunger in our secondary schools. As one of the first councils to guarantee a hot, nutritious meal at lunchtime for all primary school children, we know how life-changing they are.

“We introduced them in Southwark a decade ago because we saw children were falling through the gaps and the toll it was having on their learning and health. It’s been a huge success, reducing obesity levels among young people, helping them engage in learning and boosting academic performance.”

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