Primary schools in some London boroughs will be ‘left out of pocket’ and unevenly hit by costs from Sadiq Khan’s £130million free school dinner plan
- The London Mayor’s free school meals plan will launch in September for all kids
Primary schools in some London boroughs will be left out of pocket and unevenly hit by costs from Sadiq Khan’s £130 million free school meal plan, new research has suggested.
Under the London Mayor’s plan, all primary school children in the capital will receive free school meals for the next academic year, with Mr Khan’s office funding £2.65 per meal – an increase from the £2.41 per meal currently paid for by the Government.
But some councils, such as Lewisham, have warned that the true cost of meal is actually £3 per child, creating a £600,000 shortfall in borough finances to plug the gap and make sure every child is given free meals from September.
In other areas, however, boroughs have said the new scheme will result in an excess amount of cash, prompting fears that the scheme has been distributed unevenly across London.
School food campaigner Andy Jolley said that Mr Khan had ‘completely underestimated the difficulties of implementation’ and that schools would be left to ‘pick up the pieces’.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan will launch his £130 million free school meal plan in September
Bexley council told Schools Week: ‘The council does not have the funds to meet any additional costs associated with this initiative and this will need to be met by our schools.’
A spokesperson for Sutton Council added: ‘As the funding is only for one year, commencing with a short timescale and the take-up is unknown, schools will need to manage the equipment and sites they have and manage the situation accordingly.
‘If this were to continue then some capital funding may be required.’
Others, such as Kingston and Richmond council, warned that they would not have time or enough extra cash to increase staff and upgrade facilities before rolling out the scheme in September.
‘Logistics of mobilising the expansion in such a short period of time is causing concern, at a time when schools are already under significant pressure in terms of children’s needs and school finances,’ it said.
Westminster council, however, which already provides free school meals to all primary school, said the extra money would help expand the scheme for secondary school pupils.
Currently, households in England receiving Universal Credit must earn below £7,400 a year before benefits and after tax to qualify for free school meals. But all children in London will be provided free meals from the start of the new academic year.
According to the Food Foundation, an estimated 800,000 children in England are living in poverty but do not qualify for free school meals.
Mr Khan has previously said that the scheme should be copied nationwide.
Some councils, however, have warned that the earmarked money is not enough to cover costs for a free meal for every single child
Speaking to the BBC previously, Mr Khan said: ‘I am hoping that the lessons from London will show the case unarguably that universal free school meals in primary schools should be a must.’
‘The cost-of-living crisis means families and children across our city are in desperate need of additional support,’ he added.
‘It will also guarantee every primary school student a healthy, nutritious meal – meaning they don’t go hungry in the classroom and can better concentrate on their studies.’
It faced backlash when he unveiled the plans, with some Conservative MPs hitting out at the cost and the universality of the scheme.
Former secretary of state for levelling up, Simon Clarke said: ‘Using millions that could be spent on targeted support to vulnerable children to subsidise free school meals for middle class parents who can afford them perfectly well is the opposite of progressive politics. Classic Labour.’
Mr Khan’s intervention comes after TV chef Jamie Oliver in December called on the Government to extend free school meals to every household with parents on Universal Credit, warning ‘chaos ensues’ from parents worrying about feeding their children.
MailOnline has contacted the London Mayor’s office.