Children of Universal Credit recipients to be given free school meals

Secondary school children of parents who receive Universal Credit are to be offered free school meals.

All primary school children in Southwark have benefitted from free healthy school meals for more than a decade. 

And now, with poverty on the rise nationally, Southwark council has extended the offer to all secondary pupils whose parents get Universal Credit but miss out on free school meals.

The council’s leader and deputy leader joined pupils and staff at Ark Walworth Academy, in Shorncliffe Road, Walworth, to hear about the impact of a guaranteed healthy meal at school every day.

Year 9 pupil Zuzanna said: “We get given free fruit in the morning break by our school. Morning break and having a school lunch helps me to concentrate in class.”

Year 11 pupil Olivia explained that increasing numbers of parents were unable to afford lunches for their children due to the cost-of-living crisis. 

She said: “Free school meals should be there for everyone. We are all human. We need to fuel our bodies, because we are still growing. We need to fuel our brains, because we are still learning.

“The best bit about free school meals at primary school was everyone coming together. It was a moment in the day for unity and togetherness. 

“That’s why I think everyone should get free school meals. I think togetherness is the key to success. It helps us to learn in the classroom.”

Principal of Ark Walworth Academy, Jessica West, said: “Children cannot learn well if they’re hungry – it really is that simple. 

“If we want to do our jobs as educators, we must ensure that young people have access to good, healthy food every single day. 

“I’m grateful for the support of the local authority in enabling our fantastic catering team to deliver meals so that every member of the Walworth Academy family is equipped to get the most from their day.”

Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that more than a million children in the UK belong to families that cannot afford to meet their most basic needs to stay warm, clean, clothed and fed. 

London came out as having the highest destitution levels in 2022, with two in every five children in the capital now living in poverty.2

And, following the Mayor of London rolling out universal free school meals to all primary schools in London this school year, Southwark council is now funding all secondary school children whose parents receive Universal Credit but miss out on free school meals because they earn above £7,400 as a family.

Cllr Kieron Williams, leader of Southwark council, said: “The evidence for free healthy school meals couldn’t be clearer after a decade of doing the right thing for Southwark’s children. 

“Children are better nourished and achieving better results, so I am delighted we’ve been able to launch this new pilot to extend free healthy school meals to many more secondary pupils whose families are struggling to get by during this cost-of-living crisis.

“As it stands, the national threshold for free school meals is shamefully low, and increasing numbers of children are going without. 

“We are proud to be on the right side of history with the Mayor of London in refusing to accept child hunger. 

“I call on the Government to recognise the huge benefits to society of ensuring our children are well-fed, and provide councils with the funding we need to provide free school meals to all children.”

Pictured top: All primary school children in Southwark have benefitted from free healthy school meals for more than a decade.  (Picture: PA)

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