London's Westminster Council announces free school meals for all primary pupils

The package is worth £2.7 million and will last for at least 18 months

All pupils at state-run primary schools in Westminster will be offered free school meals from January. PA
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All children attending state primary schools in London’s Westminster borough will from January be offered free lunches.

The council said the decision was taken to help families cope with the cost-of-living crisis, and estimated the savings for parents would be £550 ($669) per child, per year.

Labour won a historic victory in local elections earlier this year by taking control of the authority in Westminster for the first time. Council leader Adam Hug began his tenure with a pledge to embrace all Westminster residents and alleviate poverty.

After the Christmas holiday period, the council will fund school lunches for all Key Stage 2 children (Years 3-6) under an 18-month agreement. Thereafter there will be an option to extend the programme.

Free school lunches are already provided for children in Reception and Key Stage 1 (up to Year 2) which is funded by the Department for Education.

The cost of funding the meals is £2.7 million.

Mr Hug said the package would “offer direct support to those who need it most and ensure that children don’t go hungry at school”.

“Many working families who don’t qualify for free school meals are facing financial difficulties this winter as the cost-of-living crisis bites,” he said.

“Westminster City Council is determined to help our most vulnerable residents as food prices and energy bills soar. The free school lunch offer is in addition to a £10 million package of cost-of-living support which will create new food banks and help residents pay their energy bills.”

Lunch time at a school canteen. PA

Cory Mclauchlan, head of school at Robinsfield George Eliot Federation, welcomed the council’s announcement.

“Some of our most vulnerable families are really struggling this winter and there’s a real danger that many families could have to choose between heating and eating,” he said.

“At George Eliot Primary School we have a strong commitment to providing healthy meals every day and making sure our children are always ready to learn. The free lunch offer from Westminster Council will therefore make a huge difference to families and guarantee that no child is left behind.”

Families who are eligible to get free school meals for their children are also entitled to vouchers during holiday periods. These can be used in supermarkets or at certain activity centres.

Jasmine Ali, deputy leader of Labour-run Southwark Council, said all primary school pupils in the south London area are also given free meals.

She urged the Conservative government to offer more funding to local authorities to cover the cost of free school meals for all children.

“Good on you Westminster City Council!” she tweeted.

“As the cost-of-living crisis bears down on families ― we call on the government to enable all councils to do this,” she added.

Tim Roca, deputy leader of Westminster Council, put the new policy down to “Labour values in action” and said he felt “incredibly proud” of the increase in support for families.

Research shows that when children do not have enough to eat, they are less likely to achieve their potential at school. Children who experience food insecurity are also more likely to suffer from stress and anxiety, and child hunger has been linked to depression.

Updated: December 08, 2022, 10:35 AM