Sadiq Khan wants to see every child in primary school in London being offered a free school meal.
Since 2014, all children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 have been entitled to free school meals (FSM). The Mayor of London has called on the government to provide funding to extend this provision to all children up to and including Year 6. This is already the case in four London local authorities: Newham, Islington, Southwark and Tower Hamlets.
Currently, restrictive eligibility criteria mean that one in three children living in poverty in England are not provided with FSM. Food is an anomaly in the school day as it is the only element for which children are means tested. We don’t talk about eligibility for science or sport equipment but do for one of the most fundamental parts of supporting children’s development: nutrition.
While the number of children entitled to free school meals has increased, the eligibility threshold has not. This means that more children are living in families with lower incomes. Providing universal free school meals will ensure no child misses out, while removing the stigma and bureaucracy associated with means testing children.
The Mayor has also called for holiday support in the form of vouchers for those most in need, as well as increased funding for meal provision, which has not kept up with inflation. Increasing eligibility criteria not only supports more children, but has the added bonus of increasing economies of scale and making the system more sustainable for caterers.
We welcome this acknowledgement of the importance of school food and support calls for increasing support. We urge the government to immediately increase the free school meal eligibility threshold, and work towards universal provision of school food. This is a goal shared by experts and organisations from across the sector, as part of the School Food Review Working Group.
This is part of our Food policy work.
We believe that school food should be a consistent and non-partisan priority for government. We use our real-world experience of working in schools to strengthen our campaigns on children’s health, access to nutritious school meals and food education.