Should London's rich kids get free school meals?
The Spy gives you a simple guide to the mayor's new plans and its critics
Morning — here’s what we’ve spied in the capital on Tuesday, February 21, 2023:
🍎 Every primary school pupil in London will get free school meals, Sadiq Khan has announced – a universal policy that hasn’t exactly been welcomed universally. Khan’s announcement got a lot of attention on Monday, so the Spy is giving you a simple guide to what it is, why it’s being introduced and why some are against it.
The policy: From September, every primary school pupil in London will get free school meals, regardless of household income. With the average hot school dinner in the capital costing £2.30, it’ll roughly save families £440 per child for the year. City hall estimates the total cost of the one-off policy will be about £130m, and it’s being funded by unexpectedly high tax revenue from businesses. It’s just for primary school pupils, not those in secondary school.
The case for: Khan says the policy is an “emergency measure” needed for the cost-of-living crisis. And there’s a particular group of squeezed families that will see this as a lifeline. About 210,000 children in London live in households that are poor enough to qualify for universal credit but are still ineligible for the much stricter threshold for free school meals, of earning less than £7,400. A family in this situation with three kids at primary school will save over £1,000. Khan, who himself received free school meals growing up in Tooting, has also talked about the “stigma” of queuing up for lunch separately from the children whose parents pay, and so he hopes offering the policy universally will help get rid of that. A lot of education leaders and charities have welcomed the plans, in many cases pointing to studies that show free school meals boost academic performance and change school cultures for the better.
The case against: The biggest criticism levelled at the policy so far is that, by being universal, it’s going to end up benefiting a lot of well-off families in the capital. Households in Kensington and Chelsea have average income of about £63,000 – they’ll be just as eligible as households in Barking and Dagenham, where average income is £20,000. Some say there’s undoubtedly others who could do with targeted support – for instance secondary school pupils in London who are also in universal credit households but not eligible for free school meals. Another concern about the universality comes from youth education charity Impetus, which warned the move may make it harder for schools to find out who’s eligible for free school meals and in turn how much extra funding they’re due from central government. One might also wonder if the unexpected £130m windfall funding the policy could be banked to mitigate the tax rises and fare rises set to hit the capital from April.
And just worth noting: Some London pupils are already offered universally free school meals, due to local action taken by some boroughs. Islington, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets all do this anyway and, as of January, Westminster started offering free school meals for 18 months.
🌊 The parts of London most at risk from rising sea levels have been revealed by a new tool based on peer-reviewed science. Several iconic landmarks are in the red zone by 2100, including the London Eye, the O2 arena, the Shard, the Tate Modern and Battersea Power Station.
🚨 A Met officer raped a woman after he flashed his warrant card at her in a nightclub nearly 20 years ago, a court has heard. Stephen Kyere, 57, is on trial at the Old Bailey accused of attacking the woman after a night out on April 12, 2004. Meanwhile more firepower has arrived for the Met’s efforts to root out its rogue cops — the ex-National Crime Agency boss is joining permanently and will help the force through its “challenging period”.
🔥 Londoners overwhelmingly back a ban on wood burners, according to a poll for the Guardian. The poll found that 67% of Londoners backed a ban, with 17% opposed and 16% saying they did not know. Wood burners are the single biggest source of tiny air pollution particles in Britain, which in turn leads to health problems including heart disease, dementia and depression. The debate on whether to ban them has been burning for a while now, with the Green Party saying we should consider a ban on future sales and the Lib Dems calling for more powers for local councils. Sadiq Khan has already in effect banned wood burners in new and refurbished homes via new air pollution limits. The latest poll could inspire him to go further.
Thanks for reading London Spy! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.