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Westminster rolls out free school meals to 14,000 children in huge expansion of lunch scheme

Children aged three to 14 in Westminster will be able to receive a free school lunch in the most ambitious expansion of the free school meals programme seen in the capital.

The announcement - confirmed at full council on March 8th - builds on the free lunch programme for Westminster primary pupils which launched in January.  The offer will cover three and four year olds across all our early years settings offering free entitlements, and 11–14-year-old resident children at Westminster secondary schools.

Westminster’s additional investment of £2m will complement the existing Government free school meals offer and recent additional GLA funding to make 14,000 children eligible for free school meals. In addition, two-year-olds who currently access the Free Early Education Entitlement in the City will also receive targeted help. The ambition is to roll out this offer by September.

Cllr Adam Hug, leader of Westminster City Council, said:

“We want to take some pressure away from families at a time when we know they are already struggling. Some parents go without to fill a lunchbox with whatever is left in the cupboard - however meagre - to ensure their child has something to eat at school. It cannot be right that children in one of the richest cities on earth are being left to make do with scraps. We need to see equality built into the system for future generations.

“I am proud we can now offer 14,000 Westminster children the chance of a nutritious lunch. I want Westminster to be a place where children can sit down together in the canteen without the anxiety and stigma of who can afford to eat. That lunch may now be free for those children, but we think the impact it can have on their wellbeing and life chances could be priceless.”

Cllr Tim Roca, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Young People, Learning and Leisure, said:

“Eating well supports good eating patterns, ensuring children grow and develop and can concentrate on their learning. Teachers know that a child who has eaten properly will study and retain what they learn, so this move pays dividends in the classroom.”

Amie Curtis, Headteacher of Portman Nursery School, said: “Portman Nursery School and Church Street Family Hub are delighted to hear that Westminster City Council will be offering free school meals to nursery aged children.

“Having access to a substantial meal is an undiluted and direct approach to tackling disadvantage and child poverty. Making this universal however, means that the reach of this initiative will also benefit the hundreds (if not thousands) of children from families on the margins who often are not easily identified by our front line support services. We look forward to working with Westminster City Council and Early Years Colleagues to support the roll out of this initiative.”

Westminster City Council also confirmed the lowest Band D council tax in the country.

A freeze in the main Westminster element of the council tax means householders will pay an increase of just 18p a week. *

The measure is part of a multi-million investment being approved tonight to protect residents from the worst excesses of the cost-of-living crisis – or what council leader Adam Hug called “a down payment on a fairer future for our children and families.”

Major headline items in the Budget include:

  • Doubling the investment in temporary accommodation from £85m to £167m, providing 270 homes in or near the borough over the next three years 
  • £14m to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis – ranging from free school meals to grant help for school uniforms, an expanded holidays and activities programme and additional hardship funding.
  • A major investment in communities with an additional £500,000 for adult mental health; £671,000 for community priorities grants and £240,000 for family hubs.

Introducing the first Budget since his administration took power in May 2022, Cllr Hug said:

“We know for too long not enough has been done to chip away at pervasive and ingrained inequality faced by the same communities within Westminster.

“It’s why Westminster has both some of the most deprived and least deprived areas in the country; why the life expectancy for two men who grow up two miles apart is 16 years, and why 31,000 households in Westminster -a quarter of the City – are classed as vulnerable.”

Confirming the council tax freeze for 2023/24, the council leader said:


“This winter, people have struggled to turn their heating on, to feed their families and to put fuel in their car.

“All of this is happening in what is supposedly one of the wealthiest nations in the world – where is the fairness in that?”

Cllr Hug said the Council had made more than £28m in savings but pledged to ring fence key services from any cuts.

“Not a bit of this will come at the expense of delivering high quality local services – because we know the value of clean streets, regular bin collections and low council tax.”

The Council also reaffirmed its commitment to grow high streets across Westminster alongside the established powerhouse of the West End.

Cllr Hug said:

“We’re seeing the retail and hospitality sector revive with sales this January back to those of 2020.

“But at the same time, the local communities and high streets in other parts of our City have not benefited from equitable investment.”

Cllr Hug pointed to the council’s new North Paddington programme, underwritten by funding commitments of £20m, as an example of “place-based, joined up approach to service delivery which will unleash a new way of working with our communities.”

 

More on the plans to build a Fairer Westminster.

Published: 8 March 2023