Following a strong response from parents, MPs, headteachers and campaigners, Newham Council have decided to maintain their universal free school meal offer for all primary-aged pupils.
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Last year, Newham Council considered a downsizing of its universal free school meals programme, ‘Eat for Free’. The public consultation sparked outcry from local groups, campaigners and Newham residents, who felt that the proposed changes – to establish a tiered payment system or compel non-Newham residents to pay – would undermine the universal principles that make this scheme one of the best in the country.
Whilst the consultation was live, Sustain wrote to the Mayor of Newham urging her to maintain the scheme in its full form, and outlined how and why such schemes bring multiple benefits to children, families and communities.
The Mayor has since said that after listening to the concerns of parents, a decision to maintain the programme was taken, the Guardian reported earlier this month.
We welcome this decision to maintain the brilliant universal offer in Newham, as we know how vital it is to children and families who are struggling but don’t qualify for national free school meals, such as families who are in so-called ‘in-work poverty’ or whose parents have the immigration condition ‘no recourse to public funds. Alongside this, a universal offer is shown to be good for all pupil’s health and educational attainment, alongside providing secure and well-paid jobs locally. Whilst we welcome this call, we hope that spending cuts are not made to any other important food services in the borough instead.
Morven Oliver-Larkin, London Food Poverty Campaign Coordinator
Like councils across London, Newham has faced increasing pressures on its capacity since the Covid-19 pandemic began. The proposed changes to its ‘Eat for Free’ programme formed part of a plan to reduce spending by £2m a year; it is understood that the Council is now considering how to make these spending cuts elsewhere.
Given this situation, Sustain hopes that any alternative spending reductions are not made to any vital food services or activities in the borough.
We also hope this step encourages the other councils funding free school meals for all primary-aged pupils to continue to do so. Sustain supports the calls for a review of free schools meals policy and hope this review will take account of the multiple benefits of a universal school meals offer.
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Published 26 Jan 2021
London Food Link: This is the umbrella for all of Sustain's initiatives in London. Our work includes helping to influence local government policy, hands-on food growing training, running sessions for public sector caterers, creating guidance for independent eateries and food producers, public awareness campaigns, and joining the dots between people around specific food issues. The LFL supporter network is open to everyone who grows, produces, teaches, peddles, promotes and simply enjoys good food in the capital.
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