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Labour MPs Call For Universal Free School Meals For All Primary School Children

4 min read

A growing number of Labour MPs are calling for Sadiq Khan’s decision to provide free school meals for all primary school pupils in London to be rolled out across England.

The London mayor announced the year-long £130 million scheme on Monday, describing it as an emergency measure in response to the rising cost of living.

"The cost of living crisis means families and children across our city are in desperate need of additional support,” said Khan.

"I have repeatedly urged the government to provide free school meals to help already stretched families, but they have simply failed to act."

He added: "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."

London has some of the highest rates of child poverty rates in the country – with 56% of children in Tower Hamlets below the poverty line, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

A number of Labour MPs have welcomed Khan’s intervention, urging the government to implement the same policy nationwide.

Charlotte Nichols, MP for Warrington North, told PoliticsHome a “universal approach” would enable pupils to fulfil their “full academic potential”.

“This is something I would love to see rolled out across the UK, not only to end the stigma that sadly too often surrounds free school meals, but also as children can't learn if they're hungry and we have many children who are just missing out on this support, and whose parents are struggling to provide it,” said the Red Wall MP.

“A universal approach to free school meals would ensure all children can have quality, healthy, hot meals at school, and set them up for reaching their full academic potential.”

According to the JRF, 4.3m children in the UK live in poverty – with data from the Food Foundation in September 2022 revealing 4m children living in food insecurity in the UK.

A growing number of Labour MPs including two former front benchers have called on the government to introduce universal free school meals for primary school children.

Dawn Butler, MP for Brent Central and former shadow women and equalities secretary, told PoliticsHome universal school meals for primary school pupils was important for child development.

“I support and think that the sixth richest county should be able to ensure our children get at least one good meal a day as it will aid learning and development,” she said.

Nadia Whittome, MP for Nottingham East, encouraged the government to follow suit – warning there is “no excuse for letting a single child go hungry” in the “sixth richest country in the world”.

“The Mayor of London has the right idea – it’s time for the Conservative government to follow suit," she told PoliticsHome.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell also told PoliticsHome the move had his “100 per cent support”.  

“Sadiq’s announcement on free school meals is a huge breakthrough that will dramatically improve the lives of so many of our children in London and I am pressing for Labour to commit to this policy nationally," he said.

"Preventing children going hungry at school is exactly what a Labour government should do and would have popular support.”

A coalition of charities – including Save The Children and Shelter – have warned that one in four UK homes are going without essentials amid the worsening cost of living crisis.

“Families are now existing month to month, even day to day in some cases and going without essentials, making us deeply worried about the impact this has on children,” said Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact at Save The Children on Tuesday.

"The Spring Budget is a chance to take action to help families and one valuable step forwards would be to provide free school meals to all families on Universal Credit.”

A Downing Street spokesperson on Monday defended its record on the issue – but did not rule out future changes.

“Free school meal eligibility is under review, but we continue to believe it is important that it is targeted to ensure we are supporting those who need them most.”

Correction: MPs are calling for free school meals to be rolled out across England, not the United Kingdom as a previous version suggested.

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