The move extends City Hall’s £135 million programme, which currently pays for meals for 287,000 children every day across London and has already provided 17 million meals between September and Christmas.
More children are to benefit in Barnet than any other London borough – some 13,500 pupils in schools in Finchley, Golders Green, Hendon, Colindale, Burnt Oak, High Barnet and Edgware.
Next highest number in state schools is Redbridge at around 13,000, then Newham with 12,600, Enfield 12,200, Brent 11,500, Havering 10,650, Harrow almost 10,000, Waltham Forest 9,800, Barking and Dagenham 9,750, Haringey 8,500, Tower Hamlets 8,300, Hackney 6,100, Islington 4,250, Camden 3,600 and the City 113.
The Mayor of London plans to spend £140 million from City Hall’s 2024-25 budget to extend free meals for another year from this September, helping parents financially and reducing stigma for youngsters who receive them whose families are in poverty.
“This will help families make ends meet,” chef and food campaigner Jamie Oliver said. “Children having nutritious food at school is the foundation of better education.
“It’s more than just nourishing their bodies — it impacts their future at a time when many families are struggling, providing the nourishment their children need to thrive.”
Free school dinners for all children, including secondary school pupils, was first piloted by Tower Hamlets Council back in 2012, and was taken up by City Hall a decade later.
This latest extension for primary schools will now help families who do not qualify for Government help to have meals for another year, saving them up to £500 for each child.
Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “I know from personal experience what a difference these meals can make. Teachers say how much better children are performing, with parents not having to worry about how to provide nutritious meals during the school day.”
Free meals improves financial and psychological security for parents who don’t have to worry about paying for school dinners, while improving a child’s nutrition intake and classroom concentration, a report by the Child Poverty Action Group and the National Education Union has shown.
One-in-three families buys less food and essentials to help deal with living costs, a poll commissioned by City Hall has found.
This school year is the first time that free school meals have been available to all London primary-aged pupils in mainstream state and special schools and pupil referral units. Many youngsters from working families in poverty were not able to receive free school meals until now.