Sadiq Khan asserted that it is his ‘aspiration’ to make free school meals programme permanent.

Sadiq Khan asserted that it is his ‘aspiration’ to make free school meals programme permanent.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has expressed his desire to make his year-long program of free meals for primary school children a permanent fixture. While launching the £135 million initiative in schools across London, Khan shared his aspiration to extend the policy beyond its current duration. However, he emphasized that he would refrain from making unattainable promises to Londoners.

Balancing Commitment and Realism

Khan highlighted his approach of prioritizing delivery over extravagant commitments, stating, “I’d rather under-promise and over-deliver, than the other way round.” The funding for this emergency program was found due to the pressing cost of living crisis, making it a crucial initiative.

Assessing the Policy’s Impact

The Mayor outlined plans to assess the policy’s success throughout the year, considering factors like attainment, attendance, productivity, health benefits, and its impact on families. In an ideal scenario, Khan aims for the program’s permanence, demonstrating his commitment to addressing pressing societal challenges.

Political Rivalry and Response

Susan Hall, Khan’s Conservative opponent in the upcoming mayoral election, pledged to ensure the program continues as long as the cost of living situation necessitates it if elected. Khan, in response, criticized the audacity of the Conservative party, pointing out their opposition to his budget that included the free school meal program. He urged Hall to use her influence to lobby her own party in addressing issues such as crumbling schools and austerity.

National Context and Financial Realities

Khan acknowledged the financial complexities faced by the Labour Party in committing to similar programs nationally. He mentioned that the party’s uncertainty, considering future budgets and economic conditions, is understandable given the upcoming general election.

Financial Basis and Benefits

Khan’s free school meal program has been funded through higher-than-expected collections of business rates and council tax. This initiative is expected to benefit approximately 287,000 children in London and save families over £440 per child. Notably, the government already provides free school meals for children up to Year 2, with eligibility criteria varying for older children.

Challenges Faced by Families

Polling by YouGov revealed that a significant portion of parents and guardians in London with children aged five to 11 are facing financial struggles. Around one-third of them report financial difficulties, with some going without basic needs or relying on debt to cover essential expenses. This data underscores the importance of initiatives like Khan’s free school meal program in alleviating financial burdens on families.

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