Free school meals

Primary school children will receive free school meals from January, in plans unveiled by the Council on Wednesday.

All children in Years 3 to 6 at state schools will benefit from free meals, for an initial period of 18 months to support families through the cost of living crisis.

Pupils in Years 1-2 already qualify for lunches funded by the Department of Education, saving families up to £550 per day. The Council recently committed to extending this provision to over the Christmas holidays.

The council leader, Adam Hug said that the scheme would be part of the £10 million package of measures towards helping vulnerable residents, which also includes support with rising energy bills and new food banks.

He said: “Many working families don’t qualify for free school meals are facing financial difficulties this winter as the cost of living crisis bites.

“This £2.7 million investment will offer direct support to those who need it most and ensure that children don’t go hungry at school.”

Beyond Key Stage 1, free school lunches are available on a means tested basis to families receiving benefits. Over 22,108 children attend primary and secondary schools in Westminster, on Universal Credit.

The Council estimates the measure will cost just under £2.8 million – £3 per child for approximately 190 days a year.

One of the schools that will benefit from the decision is Robinsfield George Eliot Federation, which operates both an infant school and primary school in St John’s Wood.

It’s head, Cory McLaughlan, said: “Some of our most vulnerable families are really struggling this winter and there’s a danger that many families could have to choose between heating and eating.

“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.”

Latest statistics show that a growing number of children are living under the breadline. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that nearly a third of children in the UK are living in poverty.

Dr Regina Keith, a senior lecturer in global public health and nutrition at the University of Westminster described the provision of free lunches for primary school students as “a beacon of hope”.

She said: “Research indicates that universal free school meals can lead to increased willingness to learn and increased aspiration for future careers, especially for children from low-income families.

“With challenges facing millions of families, it is a beacon of hope to learn that Westminster City Council has selected to use their limited resources to invest in the future of their children by providing free school lunches for all primary school children.

“If we invest in our children we are investing in our own future, we must strive to ensure all of our children can aspire to a healthy future where they can achieve their potential and their dreams.”

Councillors will formally approve the decision at a cabinet meeting on December 12.

Main image: Flickr/Cheshire East council.

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