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Tower Hamlets becomes first London borough to extend universal free school meals to secondary school students

With more than half of children in Tower Hamlets suffering from food insecurity, annual funding of £3.7 million will make universal free school meals available to all school students.

Tower Hamlets Cabinet has approved a proposed budget for the years 2023 – 2026 including an annual fund of £3.7 million to deliver universal free school meals to all secondary students across the borough. 

The plan would come into action at the start of the next school year in September 2023, making Tower Hamlets the first London borough to extend universal free school meals to secondary school students. 

At the moment, free school meals are only provided to secondary school students who come from households receiving benefits. 

Tower Hamlets is currently one of four boroughs to offer universal free school meals to primary school children, along with Newham, Islington and Southwark.  

The initiative would  be fully funded by the Council as part of its draft budget that was adopted by the Cabinet on Wednesday 4 January and is expected to officially pass in the full Council meeting in February 2023. 

A spokesperson from the Mayor’s office said: ‘Education is a huge part of progressing in life and having a student body eating nutritious meals everyday is fundamental to their education and a necessary precondition to their progression. 

‘Hunger – and in particular the hunger of children – is a scourge on society that can be addressed by the Government at local, regional and national levels. No expense should be spared in doing this.’ 

According to a new report by the Labour Group in the London Assembly, 51.4% of children in Tower Hamlets are living in poverty, the highest of any London borough. The report draws a direct link between poverty causing food insecurity and hunger. 

This is in comparison to Richmond Upon Thames where 15.6 per cent of children are said to be living in poverty- the lowest of any London borough. 

According to Tower Hamlets Council free school meals provide a financial saving of £475 per child every year, which amounts to a yearly saving of £1,425 for a family with three children.

If you enjoyed this article, read our piece about the removal of the play space at Chisenhale Primary School. 

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