Free school meals for all London primary school children

20 February 2023
The Mayor of London has announced that all children in London primary schools will receive a free school meal from September.

Today’s announcement follows years of campaigning free school meals to be extended. Sadiq Khan has previously voiced his support for the policy, so we are delighted that he has now followed up his words with bold action.

Currently, the London Boroughs of Islington, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and, as of last month, Westminster fund school meals for all their primary school pupils, regardless of family income. Tower Hamlets is planning to provide truly universal free school meals; removing means testing in both primary and secondary schools from this September.

Our friends at Child Poverty Action Group have calculated that 41% of children living in poverty in London are ineligible for free school meals. This is because of the draconian eligibility criteria set by the government. Since 2018, to be eligible for a free school meal a child’s family has to be in receipt of universal credit and cannot have a total household income of over £7,400 in a year.

Even for those families who are eligible, it is estimated 215,000 children across England still don’t get their free school meal. This can be because of barriers to access, which include language, access to technology and stigma.

The extension will mean investing £130 million for the year 2023-24 and is to be paid for using higher-than-expected returns on business rates. We know that the universal provision of school meals is well worth the money. Not only because of the benefits to children’s health and education, but also thanks to a cost-benefit analysis carried out by PwC, which shows big returns on investment.

In England, London is leading the way to embed stigma-free access to the good nutrition our children need to thrive.  It’s now time for government to follow and extend free school meals to all families receiving universal credit as an immediate first step towards universal provision. This is a goal shared by experts and organisations from across the sector, as part of the School Food Review Working Group. But for now, it’s worth pausing to celebrate this most welcome announcement and commend London’s Mayor for putting children’s health first.