Our reaction to London Free School Meals extension

School meals

The Food Foundation welcomes plans to extend a programme providing Free School Meals to all primary school children in London.

The emergency measure, which was introduced last year to help families struggling with the cost of living crisis, has helped give an estimated 287,000 children in the capital access to healthy food.

It was due to end at the end of the 2023/2024 academic year, but has been extended for another academic year.

The decision shows the importance of our Feed the Future campaign, which we lead in partnership with seven other organisations, calling on central government to provide Free School Meals for the 900,000 children across England living in poverty, who are still not eligible.

In England, the national eligibility threshold remains set at a household income of below £,7,400 (after tax, excluding benefits).

Reacting to the announcement, our Executive Director Anna Taylor, said: "We are delighted that primary school pupils across London will have access to free school meals for another year.

"This investment will make a meaningful difference to improving children’s health, wellbeing, educational attainment and school attendance by guaranteeing them a nutritious and filling lunch each day.

"The continuation of this vital lifeline will come as a considerable relief to many families on the verge of breaking point and relieve some of the pressure on tight family budgets.

"As the transformative potential of Free School Meals is being increasingly recognised at local level, we are calling for the scheme to be expanded nationwide.

"Hundreds of thousands of children across the rest of the country are living in poverty and yet still do not qualify for a Free School Meal. Every child unequivocally deserves access to healthy, nutritious food regardless of where they live.

"As we approach the 2024 general election and metro mayoral election, we urge all national political parties and metro mayors to pledge to do what’s right and ensure that no child in England is left to go hungry at school."

Free School Meals guarantee children a hot, nutritious meal at lunchtime. They support families with the rising cost of living, help pupils engage in learning, enhance academic performance, and improve nutrition – shoring up the diets of children from low-income households.

Reacting to today's announcement, Reema Reid, headteacher at Hollydale Primary School in London, said: "We are pleased to see the announcement that Free School Meals for primary students in London will be extended for another year.

"However, FSM is not just an initiative that can reviewed annually; it’s a lifeline that bridges the gap between food poverty and a brighter future for our children.

"FSM should be made permanent and available to children all across England."

The Food Foundation believes expanding eligibility to all schoolchildren with a first step of targeting children in households on Universal Credit would be an effective way to make school food fairer, while supporting families struggling with a huge rise in the cost of living immediately. 

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