By Adrian Zorzut, Local Democracy Service
Free lunches will be offered to all kids in state-funded primary schools in central London from next year.
Pupils within the City of Westminster will be eligible for one free school meal per day for an 18-month period from January 2023.
The vital £2.7m subsidy is expected to save families £550 per child, per year. Where a hot lunch can’t be offered, food vouchers valued at £3 per day will be provided by schools to parents to pay for a packed lunch.
The latest scheme is part of a £10 million relief package by Westminster Council for struggling families facing mounting food and fuel prices.
Families that register for the Free School meals programme can also sign up to receive supermarket vouchers and discounts on activities during the Christmas holidays.
Before the announcement, only primary school children aged four to seven would be guaranteed a free school dinner.
Westminster City Council leader Councillor Adam Hug said the programme is excepted to help those most in need. He said: “Many working families who don’t qualify for free school meals are facing financial difficulties this winter as the cost of living crisis bites.
“This £2.7million investment will offer direct support to those who need it most and ensure that children don’t go hungry at school. Westminster City Council is determined to help our most vulnerable residents as food prices and energy bills soar.”
Deputy leader and cabinet member for Young People, Tim Roca, praised the announcement, saying the initiative could save families hundreds per year on food.
He said: “ Free lunches for all Westminster children in Years 3 to 6 saves parents up to £550 per child, per year. This will mean all Westminster children attending our primary schools will receive a free, healthy lunch – providing direct support to our most vulnerable families and making sure children are able to thrive at school.”
The news comes as research by Paediatrics & Child Health found that kids who don’t get a nutritious morning meal are less likely to achieve their potential at school. Children who experience food insecurity are also more likely to suffer from stress and anxiety, and child hunger has been linked to depression.
Dr Regina Keith, senior lecturer in global public health & nutrition, at the University of Westminster, 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.
“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.”
Cory Mclauchlan, head of school at Robinsfield George Eliot Federation, said: “Some of our most vulnerable families are really struggling this winter and there’s a real 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.”
Pictured top: A George Eliot Primary School pupil eating a free school meal. (Picture: LDRS)
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