Southwark Council agreed to provide free school meals for one year to local secondary school pupils whose parents live on Universal Credit but do not receive free school meals, in another victory for our Feed the Future campaign.
The new initiative will bring relief to thousands of families struggling with the spiraling cost of living and follows the London Mayor’s announcement on Sunday, broken by the independentof his £130m emergency package to provide free school meals to all primary school children in London for one year.
Southwark, one of four London boroughs already offering free universal school meals to all children in state primary schools along with Newham, Islington and Tower Hamlets, has agreed to divert funds from the £3.2m it will save as a result of the mayor’s plan and use it to fund a year-long pilot free school meals program to support struggling families with children in high school.
Its pilot program will run concurrently with the mayor’s program for the 2023/24 academic year.
Cllr Kieron Williams, leader of Southwark Council, said: “The money saved from the mayor’s new proposal is approximately £3.2 million. It is too early to say if this will be enough to fund ALL high school children in families whose parents receive Universal Credit but do not receive free school meals because they earn above the threshold, but the intention is to do so as part of a major pilot program to fight hunger in high schools and make sure high school students don’t go hungry.”
This move by Labour-controlled Southwark Council at its budget-setting assembly on Wednesday night passed unanimously and will now put the spotlight on Newham, Islington and Tower Hamlets to do the same.
It will also put more pressure on the government, which was harshly criticized by Sadiq Khan for its “lack of action”.
Southwark Council said they welcomed the mayor’s announcement this week, as well as our Feed the Future campaign last October, in which we highlighted the plight of 800,000 schoolchildren in England, including 210,000 children in London, living in households with universal credit but do not receive free access. school meals because your annual household income, excluding benefits, is above the £7,400 threshold.
This threshold applies regardless of the number of children in the family and is causing great hardship among families struggling with the spiraling cost of living.
Southwark called on the government to follow the mayor’s lead and raise the threshold to £20,000. Cllr Williams said: “What the government needs to do is extend free school meals to all primary school children, as we have done in Southwark and the mayor plans to do across London.
“We know that the current household income threshold for government-funded free school meals excludes many borough children whose families are struggling financially. We believe the eligibility threshold for primary and secondary students should be raised to those with a household income of £20,000 or less.”
Cllr Williams added: “We will seize the opportunity of this investment from the Mayor of London to fight hunger in our secondary schools. As one of the first councils to ensure a hot and nutritious lunchtime meal for all elementary school children, we know how they change lives.
“We introduced them to Southwark a decade ago because we saw children falling through the gaps and the toll it was taking on their learning and health. It has been a great success, reducing obesity levels among young people, helping them to participate in learning and improving academic performance.