Sadiq Khan pledges to continue free primary school meals for children if re-elected

All primary school children in London will enjoy free school meals for another four years if Sadiq Khan is re-elected mayor, he promised on Thursday.

The landmark pledge forms the centrepiece of his 2024 mayoral manifesto as he attempts to secure an historic third term of office a fortnight today.

Mr Khan first offered all pupils – regardless of their family’s wealth - free lunches in State primaries from last September as a one-year emergency measure to alleviate the cost of living crisis felt by many London parents.

When it became clear the universal policy was becoming hugely popular, he offered to extend it for a year if re-elected on May 2.

But unveiling his manifesto, Mr Khan – who still refers to the stigma he felt as a child receiving free means-tested school meals when he grew up in Tooting – vowed to retain the £140m a year policy for the entire four-year mayoral term.

Earlier in the campaign, Mr Khan’s Tory rival, Susan Hall, who had earlier promised to retain it until the cost of living crisis eased if elected, questioned whether it was right for” Londoners on the breadline” to be contributing via their council tax to feed “children of millionaires”.

Ms Hall said it would be a better use of taxpayers’ cash – and would improve the quality of the meals – if they could be targeted at the poorest children in greatest need rather than offered on a universal basis.

Mr Khan said: “Free school meals have proved a lifeline during the worst decline in living standards on record. But they do much more besides.

 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

“That meal can be the difference between a child realising their potential and falling short of it. That meal removes the shame of not having enough money to eat. That meal makes children feel equal.

“And that’s why, if I’m re-elected on May 2, we’ll make universal free school meals permanent for all state primary school pupils in London.”

Labour estimates the policy will save the average London family £500 per school year per child.

All 1,900 state primary schools in the capital are taking part in the scheme, benefiting up to 287,000 children a day. About 1.4m free meals are served every week.

Jamie Oliver, the chef and campaigner, said: “This is phenomenal news. Free school meals are transforming the lives of all London primary school children.

“Not only should every kid have the chance to be happy and healthy in the classroom, but we know free school meals help to promise them a brighter future too.”

Fellow TV chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “Free school meals for every primary school child in London is an amazing policy promise from Sadiq Khan, which will make a real difference to children’s health and learning.

“Now it needs to be expanded across England so that all children can receive a nutritious meal at school to help them concentrate, thrive at school, and reach their potential.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, who was expected to join Mr Khan at his manifesto launch despite the ongoing controversy over the sale of her home, praised him for “stepping in to help Londoners through the cost-of-living crisis”

She said he had a plan to provide young Londoners “with a strong foundation so they can thrive no matter where they come from” and to “break the link between where you come from determining where you end up”.

Ms Hall’s spokesman claimed the free school meals pledge was “uncosted” and could result in less cash being spent on policing. He pointed out that the scheme has been funded by a combination of City Hall reserves and business rates to date.

Green mayoral candidate Zoe Garbett said: “There are still thousands of secondary school children going hungry across the city and I believe City Hall can comfortably afford to provide free school meals to them as well.”

Prior to Mr Khan’s initiative, pupils in school years three to six only received free school meals if they lived in households on universal credit earning less than £7,400 a year.

However five London boroughs including Tower Hamlets and Islington already provided free school meals to all primary pupils. Tower Hamlets extended this last September to secondary school pupils.