Newham to keep Eat for Free school meals scheme after outcry | Education

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One of the UK’s most deprived boroughs has abandoned controversial proposals to axe its pioneering universal free school meals scheme after an outcry from local families, campaigners, MPs and headteachers.

The Guardian reported in December that Newham council’s Eat for Free scheme, which benefited up to 14,000 local children annually and saved families about £500 a year for each child in food costs, was under threat because of funding cuts.

The east London borough has now announced the £6m-a-year scheme – that guarantees all primary school pupils aged from three to 11 years of age a free dinner during term time, regardless of household income – will remain in place.

“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,” said Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz.

Local MPs and school leaders had praised the scheme as “life-changing” and said they feared the impact the proposed cut would have on the health and educational development of thousands of children, especially during the pandemic.

Welcoming the decision, local MPs Stephen Timms and Lyn Brown, and London assembly member Unmesh Desai said in a letter to Fiaz the scheme was needed more than ever. “We are proud that Newham will continue to set a positive moral and political example of excellence, especially in the context of stretched finances.”

Newham has been required to make £250m of funding cuts over the past decade, and in common with many other councils it has been forced to look at closing or shrinking “non-core” services that it has no legal duty to provide.

Newham had put forward a range of options to save £2m a year from the Eat for Free scheme, including charging parents up to £1.42 a day for school meals. It is understood council officials are examining draft budgets to see where those savings can now be found.

Under the government’s national scheme for England, all primary school pupils from reception to year 2 receive free school meals. Newham extends that offer to years 3 to 6. It is one of just four such council schemes in England, alongside the London boroughs of Islington, Southwark and Tower Hamlets.

Half of all children in Newham live in poverty, making it the second poorest borough in England after Tower Hamlets. Hunger is a growing problem in the borough during the pandemic, and just under a quarter of Newham’s children are food insecure, meaning they regularly miss meals or go hungry.

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Newham to keep Eat for Free school meals scheme after outcry | Education

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