Newham considers introducing charge for school meals

School lunch

All school children in Newham aged three to 11 get a free hot lunch during term time regardless of family income - Credit: PA

The council has said it may have to cut its pioneering Eat for Free school meals scheme because it has become “unaffordable”.

Newham, which has the second highest level of child poverty in the country, is only one of a handful of local authorities to offer all children aged three to 11 a free hot lunch during term time regardless of family income.

However the borough has started a consultation on proposals to change the Eat for Free programme, in a bid to save £1.9million.

The scheme, which has been running for over a decade, costs £6m a year and feeds some 16,000 children.

The council is now proposing that the parents of children who are not entitled to free school meals pay a contribution of between 60p and £1.42 towards the £2.42 daily cost of the lunch, with the council meeting the rest.

Children who come to a Newham school but who do not live in the borough would no longer be part of the scheme.

Councillor Sarah Ruiz, cabinet member for education and children social care, said: “There is no doubt that our Eat for Free scheme has been a huge success – and one which we are very proud of. It has helped thousands of Newham’s children, giving them essential nutrition and removing from their families the burden of paying for term-time lunches.

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“But the unprecedented economic situation facing our borough – with government cuts and the devastating impact of Covid-19 compounding the financial challenge – leaves us with no choice but to look very carefully at how best to make the savings we need.”

Planned cuts to the meals scheme were scrapped two years ago after research showed giving every child a free lunch improved results and well-being.

The borough’s Every Child A Musician programme, which offered  free instruments to every child in Newham, was instead axed to help pay for the food.

Cllr Ruiz added: “Infant school pupils and older children entitled to free school meals would continue to receive them, while others would be asked to make a small contribution to the daily cost. We feel that this could offer the best balance between maintaining such an important scheme while making some vital savings. I encourage all families to have their say on the proposals.”