Boris Johnson backs universal free school meals

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The Mayor of London has committed to providing free school meals to all children in London.


The Mayor with the secretary of state for education Michael Gove

In a response to a question from Labour London Assembly member Fiona Twycross, mayor Boris Johnson pledged his support to the provision of universal free meals in all state-funded and free schools.

Under the current system, children whose parents work under 16 hours a week (24 hours for couples) and if their annual income is less than £16,190, qualify for free school meals.

However, from next September, all children in Reception, Year One and Year Two, will be eligible, under plans announced by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg two months ago.

During the mayor’s questions yesterday, Ms Twycross asked Boris Johnson, ‘With a third of London’s children sometimes finding it hard to concentrate due to hunger, do you agree that free school meals could contribute to tackling food poverty in London? If so, what will you do as mayor to promote this amongst those organisations responsible for school meals?’

The mayor responded by saying that he agreed with the recommendation by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent within the School Food Plan that free school meals should be extended to all primary school children.

 ‘In an ideal world, I think that parents who can pay should pay (for school meals). It has been put to me by Henry Dimbleby and others that the only way to increase take-up of free school meals properly is to make the offer universal. That is an argument I accept. Let’s do it’, said the mayor.

He added, ‘I want to see all London children get a nutritious meal, eat the same thing, at the same time together and enjoy the benefits of a communal meal. That is what I remember about my time at school. I would like to see all London children eat what we ate, and that was liver and cabbage.

‘I’ve surrended to the universal free school meal lobby.’

Commenting on the major’s pledge to support the implementation of universal free school meals, Fiona Twycross, said, ‘I am delighted that Boris Johnson will be using his office to promote universal free meals and that he is fully onboard with this policy. Hunger amongst school age children is a serious and growing problem across London and universal free school meals would help to alleviate this problem.

‘The Mayor’s own London Food Board found that 74,000 children in London sometimes or often go to bed hungry while eight per cent said that their children have had to skip meals as there was not enough food to eat.
‘Universal free school meals generate wider health, educational and social benefits that ex-tend well beyond low-income households. It would put money back in the pockets of hard pressed families at a time when many are suffering because of the cost of living crisis.'
In September, Nursery World reported that Southwark Council would be offering all primary school pupils a free school dinner. A similar offer was introduced in Tower Hamlets for all Reception and Year One children.

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