By Robert Firth, Local Democracy Reporter
Families are demanding a council hands out free school meals to all pupils to stop kids from going hungry.
Parents are calling on Labour-led Lewisham council to follow Tower Hamlets’ example and become the second local authority in England to introduce free meals for all students.
It comes as a teacher warned that kids entitled to free meals are so ashamed of receiving them that they’re choosing to go hungry at school to avoid getting picked on.
Campaigners say that making free school meals available to all will get rid of the stigma surrounding them and ensure no kid in the borough goes without at least one hot meal a day.
Lewisham resident Andra McMillan, 43, one of the organisers of the campaign, said: “Food is a basic fundamental human right and we know children and young people in Lewisham are going hungry.
“There’s also so much stigma around free school meals. Children are being bullied because they’re on free school meals.
“Universal free school meals isn’t going to solve the underlying problems, but it will make sure that every child gets one free meal a day.
“It’s so important that we look after our children and young people, they are our future.”
Lewisham teacher James Keer, who is supporting the campaign, said giving all kids free meals would do away with the stigma attached to receiving them.
He said: “What you can often see is that students who are entitled to free school meals simply don’t access them because they are concerned about the stigma. If we had free school meals universally that stigma wouldn’t exist.”
The petition on change.org has racked up 589 signatures in a month since it was launched.
In Southwark, the council has given free school meals to all primary school pupils since 2013. Newham Council also provides free lunches to all primary school children.
In December last year, Westminster council announced it was introducing universal free lunches for pupils in years 3 to 6 for 18 months from January 2023.
Councillor Amanda de Ryk, Lewisham’s cabinet member for finance and strategy, said: “We are aware of a local petition calling for free school meals universally for all primary and secondary children in Lewisham.
“It is an absolute travesty that we are at this point where children are going hungry.
“The council is working urgently to respond to the cost-of-living crisis and support local people and families even though there is not nearly enough funding coming to Lewisham from government.
“We need much more in order to make sure no one gets left behind. We’re facing a perfect storm of budget savings, increased demand on services, rising energy costs and inflation.”
The petition can be found at: www.change.org/p/universal-free-school-meals-in-lewisham
Pictured top: Right To Food Lewisham Rally in October (Picture: Stéphanie Bosset)
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