Mayor of London promises to extend free school meals should he be re-elected.

Sadiq Khan is under fire as the local election approaches, due to questions over how his party will pay for free school meals. 

SkyNews, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan visits his old school in Tooting Bec

In the run up to the local elections happening on the 2nd of May, the current Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has pledged to extend free school meals to all primary-aged school children for four more years should he be re-elected. 

This pledge has come with significant backlash by his Conservative competitor Susan Hall, who claims that this policy is un-substantiated in the current budget for City Hall. A spokesperson for Mrs Hall said; "The only way Sadiq Khan can afford these uncosted pledges is by slashing police funding and bringing in pay-per-mile."

Other candidates up for election claim that the budget can be re-balanced to afford universal free school meals for primary children in the capital.   

Joanne McCartney, the deputy mayor of London and the Labour London Assembly candidate for Enfield and Haringey, says: 

"The truth is the evidence and data supports the principle of universal free school meals and universal benefits more broadly. Firstly, universal policies are much more efficient. Targeting a benefit requires more administration and therefore more cost to the public purse. There are also other consequences to means-testing free school meals. Not only do some parents dare not apply due to the weight of embarrassment, but it takes inequalities persistent outside the school gates and reproduces them inside the lunch hall."

"Universalism enshrines the principle of social equality in schools. The reduction in stigma as children sit down as equals to eat a nutritious meal and the notion that all children are worth the same is something we should defend."

The question, perhaps, shouldn't be; "what can we currently afford?". Perhaps a more useful approach to take would be to question, what do Londoners value the most, and then how will the winning party organise their finances to pay for it? 

The Sustainable Food Places programme supports a move towards Universal Free School Meals in every nation to avoid eligibility complexities, remove stigma associated with free school meals and ensure a nutritional safety net for every child in school, as part of our vision for a better food system. Through our Veg Cities campaign, we are supporting places in our network to increase uptake of free school meals in local schools and study feasibility of providing universal free school meals, as a core strategy to increase vegetable consumption among children.

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