New Initiative Brings Meals to London Elementary School Students

The British capital wants to help parents cope with food challenges.

Elementary pupils collect healthy school lunches in the cafeteria.

(Monkey Business Images /

In London, the UK’s capital city and home to almost nine million people, free school meals are coming to the school menu for all elementary school kids, an estimated 270 thousand children, as the Mayor of London’s website reveals. This is a timely intervention to help families fight back against the current cost of living crisis. It is spearheaded by the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, who received free school meals himself as a child growing up in a low income family in the capital he now leads. This move has been welcomed by multiple child welfare groups

As Inside Croyden reports, this is an unprecedented emergency scheme to help families cope with the spiralling cost of living by ensuring that every elementary school child in London will be given free, healthy school meals in the coming academic year.  This is so significant because, as the Mayor of London’s website reveals, thousands of schoolchildren living in poverty do not receive the free school meals they are entitled to due to the Government’s restrictive eligibility criteria, and the lack of universal provision. 

Khan’s timely initiative
Like in many other large population hubs around the world, the wealth in London is very unequally distributed. This means it’s a mix of  flourishing areas with visible prosperity and economic growth, but also low-income zones that are home to much more vulnerable populations. In this city which is one of the world’s two top global financial centres, child poverty levels are worryingly high. According to Action for Children,35 percent of London’s children were living in poverty in 2021/2021. 

A new survey from The Childhood Trust, reported in the Evening Standard, confirms that one fifth of London’s parents worry about feeding their kids over the coming summer in the midst of the current economic challenges.

Khan’s time bound initiative will, as BBC News reveals, draw upon additional business rates income.

Good nutrition boosts learning, and the Mayor should know
Khan has been open about receiving free school meals as a child. As he shares on his website “I know from personal experience that free school meals are a lifeline. My siblings and I depended on them to eat while at school and my parents relied on them to give our family a little extra breathing room financially. The difference they can make to children who are at risk of going hungry – and to families who are struggling to make ends meet – is truly game-changing.”

In parallel, Khan has also been drawing attention to the positive impact accessible healthy nutrition has on kids’ learning performance. He told Inside Croyden: “The meals are also good for children’s health as they may be the child’s main source of hot, nutritious food. By ensuring they don’t go hungry, children are better equipped to learn.” This positive impact is backed up by research. 

The Independent quotes research from accounting firm PwC it previously published, showing that “investment in free school meals would yield a net economic benefit to society of £2.45bn over 20 years. PwC calculated that the cost would be £6.44bn over two decades, but would lead to benefits in educational attainment, mental and physical health, and productivity of £8.9bn.”

As Barbara Crowther of the Children’s Food Campaign said, as reported on the Mayor’s website, This is utterly delicious news! We applaud the Mayor for announcing this vital nutritional safety net for every single primary school child in London for the coming academic year. “ We know a healthy meal is fuel for both brain and body, so that our children can concentrate, play and learn.

She goes on to suggest that a healthy food for all approach should be central to a fully inclusive education system long term as “research shows that every £1 invested in healthy school meals could deliver £1.71 in increased educational outcomes, better health and longer-term economic benefits.”

Toppling stigma
Importantly, Inside Croyden emphasizes that this initiative can tackle the stigma associated with poverty, which can deter families in need from applying for support:“As well as saving families hundreds of pounds per child, making free school meals available to all helps reduce the stigma that can be associated with being singled out as low income, therefore boosting take-up among families who need them most,” it reports the Mayor’s office as saying. 

Several celebrities have supported opening up access to free school meals, not only in London, but throughout the UK. Some have also talked about the feelings of shame as well as hunger they experienced when needing to rely on free school meals growing up, among them the ex-One Direction star, Zayn Malik. 

In a heartfelt letter to the UK prime minister last winter, as reported in the Mirror, he writes: “I know what that shame feels like, I have seen it first-hand, as growing up in Bradford, I relied on Free School Meals. I personally experienced the stigma surrounding food insecurity.”

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