Mayor vows to continue Newham free school meals scheme

More pupils in Newham are relying on free lunches than this time last year. Picture: Chris Radburn/P

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has guaranteed Newham's free school meals scheme. - Credit: PA

The Mayor of Newham has confirmed a council scheme providing all primary school pupils with free lunches during term will continue. 

The town hall was considering saving £1.9m a year by making cuts to the Eat for Free scheme, which provides healthy school meals to all children aged three to 11 regardless of family income. 

According to the council, the £6m-a-year programme saves the average family £500 per child in annual food costs and provides up to 14,000 pupils in Years 3 to 6 a healthy meal every school day.

Changes to the scheme were proposed in the wake of the council losing about £250m from its budget due to cuts, increasing demand for services and the impact of Covid-19. 

Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz wants residents to stick to Covid-rules as cases increase.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz says the council has listened to families about the Eat for Free scheme. - Credit: Andrew Baker

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said the council is committed to Eat for Free. 

“We want every child to have the best possible start to life, and Eat for Free makes a positive difference in learning and development of children and young people,” Ms Fiaz said. 

“We have listened to local families and know how important Eat for Free is. 

“Despite the central government cuts and the economic costs of Covid-19, I am delighted to confirm that Eat for Free will remain and Newham Council will continue to put people at the heart of everything we do as celebrate the first ever Newham Year of Young People.” 

Nationally, all pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 receive free school meals, which is a legal requirement funded by government. 

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The pioneering Eat for Free programme, which has been running for more than a decade, extends free school meals entitlement from only those in infant years and on certain benefits to all primary aged pupils. 

The council is not required by law to provide free meals to pupils in Years 3 to 6, but it is one of a handful of local authorities that does. 

It says there are 14,000 pupils in Years 3 to 6 eligible to take up the offer, which also boosts the local economy by creating catering jobs. 

Newham's analysis suggests one third of pupils in Years 3 to 6 come from households that could pay towards it.

The mayor's guarantee comes as Newham's first “Year of Young People” begins - a 12-month celebration of the contribution that children and young people make to the borough and the value placed in them.