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Over a Million Free Meals Delivered Over Christmas in London as Sadiq Khan Demands More Government Support This Winter

The London mayor has expanded free school meals and holiday food schemes during the cost of living crisis

Credit: Greater London Authority

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An estimated 1.3 million meals were delivered to struggling families across London over the Christmas break, as part of a £3.5m ‘Free Holiday Meals’ programme funded by City Hall. 

The rollout means that more than 10.1m meals have now been provided to Londoners during school holidays and weekends since April last year, according to GLA figures shared with Byline Times. But the Mayor is calling for more support from Government to continue to provide similar schemes.

The holiday meals programme is coordinated by the non-profit Felix Project, and the Mayor’s Fund for London, as part of an emergency funding programme.

Families across the capital received the free meals at a range of school holiday activities and via charities, amid continued household pressures from rising energy bills, rent and food costs. 

The meals are in addition to term-time funding for up to 287,000 primary school children at London’s state primary schools. London primary pupils now get free school meals as part of a £130m scheme over the current school year. 

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The mayor’s office says it is spending another £80m to help those struggling with the rising cost-of-living to tackle fuel poverty, food insecurity, and support renters and those on benefits. 

London mayor Sadiq Khan told Byline Times: “Winter can be incredibly tough for families who are already struggling due to the cost-of-living crisis, which is why I’m proud of the difference that our Free Holiday Meals programme is making for Londoners. It is shocking that in a city as prosperous as London so many people have to rely on the work of charities to feed themselves and their families. 

“We desperately need the Government to step forward and increase the amount of support available to families and make sure no child goes hungry this winter, as we build a fairer and better London for all.”

Asked whether Sir Keir Starmer should provide funding for universal free school meals nationally, a spokesman for Sadiq Khan said: “The Mayor has found money in his budget to help fund holiday meals for struggling Londoners in a way that works for the capital. The Mayor completely understands that given the dreadful economic mess the Tories have created, the Labour Party can only outline its costed national policy offer in this area nearer to the election.” The election is now expected to be this autumn. 

Rachel Ledwith, Head of Community Engagement at The Felix Project said the free meals over Christmas were “vital” in helping to relieve some families’ budget pressures. 

The scheme is funded through the Mayor’s Fund for London, a charity funded by City Hall which provides free healthy meals to low-income families and young people through over 300 community partners and 80 so-called hubs, where food is provided alongside a range of school holiday activities. 

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The Felix Project delivers surplus food from a range of suppliers to nearly 1,000 charity organisations and schools that support those in need.

A further £425,000 is being provided to The Felix Project to expand its capacity and allow it to deliver food on Saturdays, as well as during the week. 

The move will enable around 100 new charitable organisations on their waiting list to be supplied with food, and help The Felix Project deliver an additional 20 tonnes of food every weekend, which will create around 2.5-3m meals over the next year.

The SNP in Scotland has also introduced free school meals for those in primary school years 1-5. Many parts of Wales under the Labour-Plaid Cymru administration now offer universal free school meals to all primary school pupils, while the Government there plans to roll it out across all of Wales by September this year. 

Many low-income children are already entitled to free school meals in England. However, Labour mayors including Khan and Manchester’s Andy Burnham have been pushing Sir Keir Starmer to back universal free school meals for all primary school children, on the basis that it would reduce stigma and encourage learning.  

Last June, a Labour spokesperson rebuffed the calls, telling The Times: “This is not Labour policy and we have no plans to implement it.” As LabourList reported, officials were said to view other measures as “more effective” when it comes to cutting child poverty.

Meanwhile, a key London Assembly committee has asked the Mayor of London to confirm “as soon as possible” whether he intends to extend his Free School Meals programme for another academic year. 

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Last month, the London Assembly’s budget committee questioned whether the Mayor’s universal free school meal programme will be continued for 2024-25 and “whether there are plans to extend its scope,” for example to secondary schools.

The Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff told Assembly Members a decision had not been made on the future of the programme, explaining “the Mayor thinks this is a success, he would like to do it, but we have no idea yet whether we have the money to do so”.

The committee argued that implementing the programme has taken major work from boroughs and schools, and they need early notice to help with planning. Members wrote to the Mayor urging him to confirm his intention for the future of the free school meals programme as early as possible.

Sadiq Khan is also calling for policy changes from Westminster to tackle the cost of living crisis, including funding an “energy lifeline tariff” – a baseline amount of free energy for the poorest households before charges begin, as well as an end to forced energy disconnections or forced prepayment meter installations by energy suppliers.

The mayor has also demanded that City Hall gets the power to freeze private rents in London, which he says could save renters £3,000 over two years. The Government has rejected the suggestion and Keir Starmer’s party does not back rent controls nationally.

Mayor Khan also backs lifting the benefit cap, removing the controversial two child limit, and suspending ‘no recourse to public funds’ conditions, further policies which put him at odds with Labour nationally.

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