London free school meals scheme step in right direction but nowhere near far enough

by Oscar Parry, South west London Socialist Party

London Labour mayor Sadiq Khan has unveiled a one-year scheme to make free school meals available to every primary school pupil in London. He has stated that the £135 million programme would save parents more than £440 per child.

Any support for struggling families impacted by the cost-of-living crisis will be welcomed; a quarter of UK households with children report experiencing food insecurity, and around a third of parents say they are ‘financially struggling’, including around one in six going without basic necessities or relying on loans to pay for them.

Free school meals
School dinners. Photo: Public domain

But the scheme could go much further. The mayor’s initiative pays £2.65 per meal. Across London, meals can cost schools anything between £1.80 to more than £4. To make up the shortfall in costs, many councils are having to contribute additional six-figure sums or schools may be faced with cuts.

Free school meals should be available to all pupils across the country on a permanent basis. Free milk was provided to all primary school students until Margaret Thatcher ‘milk snatcher’ removed it for over 7’s in 1971. The Scottish and Welsh governments have committed to expanding free school meals to cover all primary school children, which should be fully funded as well.

Free school meals for all could easily be funded, while families have been faced by a cost-of-living crisis — just look at the massive profits of the bosses.

Keir Starmer has refused to commit to free school meals if he wins the next general election, as he is concerned with proving his ‘fiscal responsibility’ to his big business backers. Expansions of free school meals are a step forward, but we can go much further, by nationalising under democratic workers’ control big business and the banks, including catering and food companies. We would be able to provide every pupil with high-quality, free, nutritious food and pay the staff that make it a decent wage.