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Westminster City Council commits £1.56m to fund free school lunches for children aged 3-14

In Westminster, approximately 32,000 households are particularly vulnerable to rises in living costs, with some people facing extreme hardships. Westminster City Council is committing an additional £1.56million to continue its free school lunches programme including nurseries and secondary schools.

The funding will be combined with the Mayor of London’s school lunch initiative to ensure every Westminster child aged between 3 and 14 will receive a free, nutritious lunch at school. The guarantee that children will have access to have at least one meal a day is expected to improve the health and wellbeing for those currently experiencing food insecurity. This will bring benefits for children’s development, as well as mental health benefits for their families, reducing concerns about food insecurity.

Westminster City Council was one of the first local authorities in the UK to launch its school lunch offer in primary schools in January 2023 to help families struggling with inflated food prices and soaring energy bills.

Following this, the Greater London Authority took the decision to fund a free meal offer for all primary aged pupils in London attending state schools. This allowed the council to extend funding for free school meals for all nursery school children and secondary school pupils in Years 7, 8 and 9 who are Westminster residents.

It was initially proposed to run until Summer 2024 but will now continue on a permanent basis, for as long as the Mayor of London’s offer is in place. It is estimated that funding school lunches will save a family £550 per child per year.

Councillor Adam Hug, Leader of Westminster City Council said:

Free school lunches have offered a lifeline to struggling families during a time of soaring food and energy prices. We want children in Westminster to have the best start in life. Extending our free school lunch offer is an important step in supporting families and ensuring children can focus on their learning.

We’ve heard heartbreaking stories of children being sent to school with just a couple of biscuits in their lunchbox. Research shows that a nutritious lunch has enormous benefits for a child’s concentration in the classroom and maximising their learning potential.

The council has also announced a further £1.9 million for our Household Support Fund, which goes towards helping some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. That brings our total Cost of Living support package to more than £23 million."

Picture of Adam, Liz and Aicha

Cllr Adam Hug, Leader of Westminster City Council; Liz Hillyard, Headteacher at Tachbrook Nursery; Cllr Aicha Less, Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council meeting at Tachbrook Nursery 

Liz Hillyard, Headteacher at Tachbrook Nursery in Westminster said:

I am so pleased that Tachbrook Nursery is part of this fantastic initiative by Westminster City Council to provide free school meals for under 5s. It is something we have campaigned about for many years.

Receiving funding for a free school meal makes an enormous difference for all our families particularly those of which are facing the increasing challenges around the cost of living. Having a free school meal means we can ensure all our children have daily access to food.

This is absolutely life changing for some of the children we teach. With a full tummy, children can grow, play, learn and develop in the manner we hope every child under five should.”

The council has also announced a £1.9million Household Support Fund which will cover meals in the school holidays for low-income families, as well as supporting vulnerable young people including care leavers and additional support for disabled households.

This includes £100k over this year’s Summer school holidays to ensure the Government funded Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) programme reaches even more disadvantaged young people. The Council has also committed £250K to funding activities and food for children in the half term school holidays.

Despite the introduction of free school lunches during term time, it is still important for families to sign up to the FSM scheme. Families eligible for FSM will receive supermarket vouchers at £3.50 a day per child and benefit from free activities during the holiday period. The school also receives funding for provision for vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils.

The council has implemented a new auto-enrolment initiative to ensure that families who do not know they are eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) are automatically enrolled.

In the last year, this has resulted in an additional 243 pupils being included in the FSM scheme. For further support, the council will be monitoring schools in Westminster and exploring solutions that ensure best uptake of the Free School Meals scheme.

Published: 9 July 2024