School holidays are often a struggle for low-income families, but the worsening cost-of-living crisis will leave many more children and their families at risk of going hungry this summer. Last year around a quarter of children in London’s schools, over 320,000 children, were eligible for free school meals. Now, with more than 570,000 children in London living in households that receive Universal Credit, many more children could be facing holiday hunger this summer.
The main driver of holiday hunger is families with income levels that are too low to afford the essentials. It is not only children who are affected. Adults are having to choose between eating themselves or feeding their children. This is simply unacceptable. We must all take whatever action we can to tackle this crisis so that no child or family goes hungry.
Despite extreme financial pressures, some London boroughs have committed to using their own resources to fund free school meals over the holidays until the end of the year. I commend them for this. But to really move the dial, we need action from central Government. I recently called on the Government to act to help families manage the crisis. This included asking for the meal voucher system over the summer holidays for children eligible for free school meals to be restored, for funding for free school meals to increase in line with inflation and for universal free school meals to be available to all primary school children.
For my part, we are spending more than £80 million this year to help Londoners struggling with the rising cost of living, including more than £50 million to tackle fuel poverty, more than £20 million to improve security for private renters and house Londoners who are rough sleeping or homeless, more than £5 million to connect Londoners with welfare advice and £400,000 to tackle food insecurity. These actions cannot solve the problem alone but they will, hopefully, go some way to easing the pressures so many families are, sadly, under.
Thank you, Mr Mayor. The Government’s Food Strategy was released on 13 June  and was met with disappointment across the board. To draw attention away from that, the former Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi - and sorry, that is one of the former Education Secretaries in those two weeks - the next day announced an £80 million increase to universal free school meals. This is an increase of seven pence per meal to £2.41. Is this enough, given the current level of food inflation, which now is at 10%, and the removal of the national free school meal voucher scheme, or will children struggle to get nutritional meals?
Within two days, we had three separate Secretaries of State for Education, one of them for 36 hours. She has the distinguished record of being the shortest ever member of the Cabinet. She received a £17,000 payoff as a severance payment for losing her job after 36 hours’ work - more than, by the way, a teaching assistant receives in a year - for 36 hours’ worth of redundancy payment.
The increase, although welcome, does not go anywhere near meeting the cost of these meals. If you look at the funding increase announced by the Government, welcome though it is, seven pence per meal to £2.41, that is not even making up the backlog of the increase in inflation. It is £2.41 for a meal now, but if you take into account the inflation there has been in the past, a meal should be costing £2.57. There is still a gap. That is why there has been concern expressed about the quality of some of the meals our children are receiving. Obviously, if you are spending £2.41 on a meal, you query the quality of the meal you can receive.
We are asking the Government to consider increasing the contribution towards this. It will help with the quality of meal received, particularly as, for some children, the meal at school is the only decent meal they receive in the daytime because of various issues around poverty, the cost of living and so forth.
This is a big concern we have. The way foodbanks normally work is that people, when they shop, buy extra stuff and leave it in a basket at the shopping centre and they give it to the local foodbank. As families are struggling now, it means there is less surplus food being bought to leave in supermarket baskets to give to foodbanks.
City Hall is not directly contributing towards foodbanks. We are working with councils to coordinate and lobby the Government in relation to school vouchers and also supporting councils in other ways through the work of the London Recovery Board, which is co-chaired with the Chair of London Councils. We are speaking to councils. I am going on a council visit next week to discuss its summer schemes. One of the things we will be discussing in relation to the children we are funding to be kept busy during the school holidays is that they receive a nutritional meal whilst they are at the scheme that we are funding to make sure, particularly this summer, they are getting some decent nourishment and their parents are getting some respite in relation to the cost of feeding their kids.