Our reaction to London Free School Meals pledge

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 at the end of the last academic 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 conclusion of the 2023/2024 academic year, but Mayor candidate Sadiq Khan says he will make the policy permanent if re-elected.

The pledge exposes the postcode lottery of access to a hot, nutritious meal at lunchtime for children living outside of the capital and flaws in the system that mean 66,000 children living in poverty in the West Midlands who are eligible for Free School Meals are still missing out.

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, said: "This is a brilliant commitment to London’s children, setting them up for the future, helping them to learn and keeping them healthy.

"We are now calling for the scheme to be expanded nationwide to put an end to the school meal postcode lottery.

"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 deserves access to healthy, nutritious food regardless of where they live.

"As we approach the 2024 general election, we urge all national political parties and metro mayors to pledge that no child will be left to go hungry at school."

The pledge 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).

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.

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 immediately supporting families struggling with a huge rise in the cost of living.

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