Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales praises the government for agreeing with the council on free school meals


- Credit: Archant

The announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister last week that free school meals would be rolled out to Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 classes in the country’s primary schools vindicates Newham’s decision to continue our ground-breaking free school meals programme.

We commit £4.7m annually to fund free school meals for all primary school children from years 1 to 6. That means about 5,000 children benefit from healthy and nutritious meals every school day.

After the coalition government cut funding from the pilots, we continued to fund our free school meals programme. We took this decision despite being hit by one of the biggest central government grant cuts to any council in the country.

This is a government that has ended up with egg on its face with this latest U-turn. Its free school meals policies are a dog’s dinner. It has admitted its decision to ditch the free school meals pilot was a huge blunder. And its latest announcement – a commitment to fund free school meals for just Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 classes – does not go far enough. It is still selling our children short.

It’s a no-brainer that free school meals lead to happier, healthier and more productive youngsters. This scheme puts money in families’ pockets – more than £500 per year per child – and helps kids get the best possible start at school.That is reflected in take-up – currently at 90 per cent of all primary schoolchildren.

We are one of London’s most deprived boroughs and we are giving our all to aid our families and pupils in tough times. We know a lot of families are under the cosh. Giving them and their kids a helping hand is our top priority. We’re there for them every step of the way.

The connection between good diet and good learning and behaviour is not pie in the sky stuff. It’s real and it’s been well researched. And this is about giving some of our kids and their families a real boost and a real chance in life. They are Newham’s future and we need to look after them.