Hackney Council welcomes expansion of Universal Free School Meals

Hackney Council's response to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan's announcement that every London primary school pupil will get free school meals next academic year.

No child should ever go hungry. But tragically, in Britain - one of the world’s richest countries - millions do, every single day. It's a national outrage, and perhaps the strongest symptom of a country at breaking point. 

That’s why we are absolutely delighted that the Mayor of London will fund universal free school meals for all primary school children in the capital for one academic year from September. 

This announcement will come as a huge relief, not only to the estimated 40 percent of children living in poverty in our borough, but the thousands more local families struggling to eat and heat during the deepening cost of living crisis. 

Eating cannot be a choice. And eating well should not be a choice. Especially when new research shows that when children are fed well, their life-chances grow. By investing in feeding our children with the best-possible foods we are literally fuelling the future.

Hackney Council understands this - that’s why it joined other local authorities in successfully campaigning for poverty-related funding from the government. That brought £5.6m into Hackney over the last year - and will bring the same in for next year. This has helped us reach those most affected by poverty, including supporting low-income families of more than 20,000 children with help to buy food during the school holidays.

This national funding injection is on top of more than £4m the Council is investing in reducing poverty and in direct financial assistance to the borough’s most vulnerable households.  

Feeding our borough, and especially our children - both sustainably and healthily - has long been a priority for Hackney Council, and this one-year funding from the Mayor of London will give us welcome space to look at how we can ensure we do that, while finding long-term and lasting solutions to food poverty.

We recognised this when, earlier in the year, the Council passed the ‘Right to Food Motion’. In that, we pledged to campaign for protection from food poverty to be adopted at national level, and called on the government to be held formally accountable for violations. As part of that drive, we want to see: a national network of community-use kitchens; access to public land suitable for community food growing, as well as country-wide policy of universal free school meals.

In the meantime, and in the absence of direct government help, we at Hackney Council know we have a part to play. This year, we are setting aside a further £250k to help reduce poverty, including to develop long-term access to affordable food; to end hunger in Hackney; and ensure there is emergency support when needed, while also promoting access to good, nutritious food. 

This year, too, we have established a Free School Meals task force, aimed at providing a hot, healthy meal to as many children in poverty as possible. We have backed this with a £300k investment. 

This funding is not simply about putting food on tables in school canteens. It can’t and won’t go far enough. Instead, it aims to fundamentally change how school meals are sourced, grown, cooked and consumed, so that the next generation of school dinners will be produced at the lowest possible cost but with the maximum amount of nutritional bang for its buck. 

We have some amazing examples in Hackney of schools already working with us on this, including investing in kitchen staff, and we will continue partnering with them and organisations like Chefs in Schools and Bite Back 2030.

This longer-term thinking will help us ensure that, if the Mayor of London's funding stops, affordable and nutritious school meals do not. 

Our focus is about edging out low-quality meals sometimes produced by profit-focussed private companies and instead getting more insourced production, staffed by local people into our school kitchens - and taking a seat at the top tables of school leadership - to cook food they love for the children they care about, while also reducing avoidable food waste. 

And we know this can work. We only have to look at The Hackney School of Food, backed by Chefs in Schools - the multi-award-winning food education hub and gardens - in Mandeville School in Homerton which teaches children how to cook accessible, in-season meals at low-cost.”

Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville and Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member Education and Children's Services

Anyone who thinks their child is eligible for free school meals between now and September, can apply here, doing so is vital to ensure schools get the funding they need to support school food and other services through the Pupil Premium.

If you would like to know what help and support is available to you, both locally and nationally, during eh cost of living crisis, you can read the Council's Here to Help at bit.ly/HackneyCOL (also being distributed across the borough and available in all libraries); or you can also contact our team of specialist advisors by searching ‘Hackney Money Hub’; or by calling 020 8356 3111.