Tag Archives: Free school meals

No such thing as a free lunch

14 Jul

When the mayor was running for re-election back in 2014 he promised to ‘Continue Free School Meals for Primary School Children’.

Newham Labour Party’s Local Government Manifesto said:

…our Labour Mayor and Councillors have launched the Every Newham Child programme which helps all our kids achieve more.the Every Newham Child programme which helps all our kids achieve more. Working in partnership with our schools this includes:

Free School Meals for all our primary children which is worth £566 per child to hard working families each year…

Most people reading this – including the party’s own candidates – believed this was a promise to fully fund the provision of free schools meals. But it turns out that was wrong. While central government funds meals for infants (key stage 1) and there is a statutory requirement to fund free meals for children from deprived families, the council only contributes 40% of the costs for the remaining key stage 2 pupils – schools have had to find the rest from their own funds.

With budgets getting ever tighter as public spending cuts bite, a number of schools threatened to opt out of the scheme. Initially, the mayor put his fingers in his ears and pretended not to hear them. 

But in May the council offered to increase funding to 60%.

19 schools told the council it was still unaffordable and they would start charging children for school meals from September. Which would be hugely embarrassing for Sir Robin. Less than a year before the next election and a signature promise would be exposed as a lie.

What was he to do?

Politically, there was only one option: fully fund the scheme! So at the next Cabinet meeting the mayor will finally agree to do what he promised and pay for all primary school meals. This will add an extra £2.5m to the cost this year and £3.6m next year. 

Of course, the cabinet paper dresses this up as a concern for Newham children:

Given the importance of ensuring a universal offer, no other option than funding junior paid meals at 100% will secure the desired outcomes for Newham’s primary age children.

But in truth, this is about ensuring the re-election of Sir Robin for a fifth term.