London council launches free school meals pilot scheme

Breakfast and lunch to be made available to all pupils regardless of family income

A scheme to offer pupils free school breakfast and lunch irrespective of income has been launched in an attempt to tackle the growing food poverty crisis in parts of the UK.

Hammersmith and Fulham council rolled out the scheme in west London on Wednesday. It said the national free school meals system was not working, leaving many children going to school hungry and remaining hungry throughout the day.

Officials say the threshold for families to qualify for free school meals is too high and the stigma of being singled out for free food while fellow pupils pay is damaging to both children and their families.

About 750,000 secondary school pupils in the UK are eligible for free school meals, at a cost per student of about £440 a year, but thousands of children with no recourse to public funds who are living in poverty may not be eligible. Others living in poverty are “not poor enough” to qualify.

Free primary school meals are available to all pupils in reception and years one and two. Three London councils – Islington, Southwark and Newham – provide free school lunches to all primary school pupils.

Availability of breakfast clubs at primary schools varies and many charge a fee. There are currently no state secondary schools offering universal free lunches.

A Human Rights Watch report last month said tens of thousands of families did not have enough to eat. Some schools in Oxford have turned to food banks to feed their pupils.

From September, free breakfasts will be universal for all primary school pupils in Hammersmith and Fulham regardless of family income, and from January 2020 the council will be the first in England and Wales to roll out a pilot scheme to deliver free lunches in two secondary schools.

The scheme will be funded from money paid to the council by property developers as one of the conditions for granting planning permission. Around 10,700 children will benefit from the pilot.

Alison Garnham, the chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Poverty and hunger exclude children from some learning and social opportunities and leave them exposed to stigma and shame. This pilot recognises the scale of the problem and strives to address it head on.”

Sally Brooks, the headteacher at Fulham college boys’ school, which is involved in the pilot, said its impact on students would be immeasurable. “Providing the boys with a nutritious meal will not only allow them to compete in an academic environment, but will also give them the nutrition needed to go above and beyond what is required of them at school and actively participate in extra-curricular activities.”

The council’s leader, Steve Cowan, said food poverty was a national crisis,. “This initiative is a step forward in the fight to end this blight on our children and their future wellbeing.”

Cowan said he hoped other councils would follow suit.

The Department for Education has announced that about 50,000 disadvantaged children in England will be offered free meals and activities over the summer holidays at a cost of £9.1m. The scheme follows a £2m programme last year that reached 18,000 children.


Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Free school meals scheme in one of UK's poorest areas faces axe
Funding cuts threaten project in Newham, east London, that feeds thousands of children

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

17, Dec, 2020 @7:12 PM

Article image
Jamie Oliver calls for expansion of free school meals in England
Tory ex-chancellor George Osborne also suggests free meals for ‘larger group of the population is the right way forward’

Rowena Mason Whitehall editor

27, Dec, 2022 @1:31 PM

Article image
London to offer free school meals to all primary pupils for a year
Exclusive: Sadiq Khan’s plan, spurred by ministers’ ‘failure to act’, will save families about £440 for every child

Aubrey Allegretti Political correspondent

19, Feb, 2023 @7:57 PM

Article image
Zayn Malik urges Rishi Sunak to give free school meals to all children in poverty
Bradford-born singer who relied on free school lunches urges PM to extend provision to all families on universal credit

Jamie Grierson

08, Nov, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Council leaders call for funding for free school meals over Easter
Councils in England have been told they will have to find the money for meals themselves

Steven Morris

05, Apr, 2020 @10:34 AM

Article image
England's free school meals scheme to close for new claims over summer
Families who become eligible for vouchers during holidays will not be able to benefit

Sally Weale Education correspondent

14, Jul, 2020 @4:38 PM

Article image
Support grows for Marcus Rashford's free school meals campaign
Politicians and celebrities of all stripes come out in support of plan rejected by government

Sally Weale, Patrick Butler and Heather Stewart

23, Oct, 2020 @7:49 AM

Article image
Nearly one in three children in north-east England on free school meals
Figures shows 10% rise in FSM across England and school leaders say real child poverty level is even higher

Richard Adams Education editor

09, Jun, 2022 @3:43 PM

Article image
Councils back Rashford and pledge to provide school meals over holidays
Campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford gets support across England after government voted against it

Patrick Butler, Richard Adams and Peter Walker

23, Oct, 2020 @10:44 PM

Article image
HAF: the hit pilot scheme that could offer way out of school meals row
The holiday activity and food programme is well regarded and would cost £200m a year

Sally Weale Education correspondent

26, Oct, 2020 @5:35 PM