The London Assembly has approved a motion that asks the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to write to the secretary of state for education and call for free school meals to be provided for all pupils in the UK.
As Heart pointed out, only children from low-income families, including those on Universal Credit or income support, are currently entitled to free school meals throughout their time at school. All children are signed up for school lunches for the first three years of primary school, however.
The reason that the London Assembly is calling for school lunches to be provided free of charge to a greater number of pupils is its concerns over food insecurity.
In a press release earlier this month, the organisation cited figures from the Trussell Trust, which is the UK’s largest food bank organisation. In 2009, it operated 30 food banks, but by the end of 2019 this had increased to over 1,200.
In London alone, the number of people it handed emergency food supplies out to climbed from under 100,000 in 2013-14 to more than 160,000 in 2018-19.
Fiona Twycross, the Assembly member who proposed the motion, described the situation as “simply unacceptable” given that London is “one of the richest cities in the world”.
She said that food banks like those run by the Trussell Trust do “an incredible job of providing emergency food parcels to those affected by food poverty”, but added that in country with the wealth levels of the UK, they shouldn’t be needed at all.
“Many of the solutions for tackling food insecurity lie in the hands of national government. However, City Hall should also play its role and build the case for extending the provision of universal free school meals,” Ms Twycross asserted.
It’s well known that what we put in our bodies has an effect on our mental and physical abilities, and when it comes to school pupils, what they eat and drink throughout the day can impact their ability to learn.
A study released by the University of Leeds last month found that the food in many children’s lunchboxes is low in nutritional value.
Its survey found that fewer than two in every 100 packed school lunches eaten by youngsters in England’s primary schools meet nutritional standards.
As few as one in five children have vegetables or salad in their packed lunch, while sugar levels in two-thirds of packed lunches were higher than those recommended.
Among the recommendations to come out of the research is for the government to make fresh vegetables freely available in schools. Measures should also be taken to increase fruit and water consumption, the researchers stated.
Dr Charlotte Evans, lead researcher on the study and associate professor in the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds, commented: “Children who take a packed lunch to school are at a greater risk of not getting sufficient nutrients compared to classmates who have a school meal.”
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