Newham council, one of the UK’s poorest boroughs, said its universal free school meals (USFM) scheme was no longer affordable as a result of funding cuts, leaving thousands of deprived youngsters at risk of missing out on a nutritious dinner.
The USFM, which has run for 11 years, guarantees all three- to 11-year-olds in the east London borough a free dinner during term time. The proposed cut would force thousands of families to contribute up to £270 a year for each of their children in years 3 to 6.
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 already just under a quarter of Newham’s children are food insecure, meaning they regularly miss meals or go hungry.
Sarah Ruiz, Newham council’s cabinet member for education and children social care, said the unprecedented economic situation facing the borough “leaves us with no choice but to look very carefully at how best to make the savings we need”.
Ben Levinson, the headteacher at Kensington primary school in Newham, said the UFSM scheme had made a “life-changing” difference to the community, especially to children from struggling working families and migrant households, neither of whom were eligible for free school meals.