Sadiq Khan has called for all primary school pupils to receive free school meals as the UK grapples with the cost of living crisis and runaway inflation.
London’s mayor said every child in the capital “deserves that safety net” in the scheme and called for all students in years 3, 4, 5 and 6 to receive it, regardless of family income, from the start of the new academic year. .
Currently, all children in nursery school receive free school meals, but only those from the most disadvantaged families qualify in the older years.
So far, the government has resisted calls to expand free school meals during the cost-of-living crisis.
Former education secretaries and unions have said they want all families with universal credit to qualify, rather than just those earning less than £7,400 a year, and for the scheme to run through the summer.
The mayor joined the call for free school meal coupons to work over the summer break, as families worry about feeding their kids over the holidays and “train” themselves to eat less without any extra help.
But Khan has gone a step further, saying the plan should also cover all primary school students from then on.
“Free school meals were something my family relied on, and every child in London deserves that safety net,” he said. the independent.
“With the summer holidays on the horizon, it is essential that the government act now to restore the food stamp system to provide families with dignity and nutritional options during the summer.”
He added: “This should be followed by the introduction of universal free school meals for all primary school children from the start of the new school year in September.”
Charities have raised concerns that children in poverty are slipping away and don’t qualify for the free school meals program.
Although almost two million children are eligible for free school meals, the Child Poverty Action Group has estimated that there are an additional 800,000 children in poverty who are not covered by this support.
The mayor’s office said research showed universal free school meals would not only help support families in the cost of living crisis, but also reduce stigma around using the scheme and increase uptake.
Khan said “multiple” councils in London – Islington, Southwark, Newham and Tower Hamlets – were already “leading the way” on universal free school meals for primary pupils, and called for this to be expanded nationally.
He also called for the amount of funding given to schools for free school meals to be increased due to the inflationary spiral, which has reached a 40-year high this year.
The government recently increased funding for free school meals for babies, but this has been criticized as “inadequate” for not keeping up with the rate of inflation.
Parents and principals have also said the independent children are given less to eat at school as food prices skyrocket.
A government spokesperson said: “The increase in the per pupil funding rate for free universal school meals for babies amounts to approximately £18 million per year overall, and will help schools continue to provide free, healthy and nutritious lunches for babies. the 1.25 million children in reception, Year 1 and Year 2.”
“More broadly, this government has expanded access to free school meals more than any other in decades, targeting more than £37bn to help the most vulnerable.”
They added: “We continue to work across government to address rising costs and will keep eligibility for free school meals under review to make sure these meals support those who need them most.”