Bradford pupils are calling back for free primary school lunches

image caption, All primary school children in London currently receive a free school lunch

  • Author, Aisha Iqbal
  • Role, Political reporter
  • Reporting from Bradford

Bradford children have backed a charity’s calls for free school lunches for all primary school pupils and urged metro Yorkshire mayors to appeal for extra money to fund the scheme.

Already in action in London, the Food Foundation wants to see the universal scheme implemented in other areas.

Teachers, however, expressed concern that without additional funding, the initiative would further squeeze school budgets.

A government spokesman said that since 2010 the number of children receiving free school meals had risen from a sixth to more than a third.

In Wales all primary school children are eligible, while in Scotland all children are eligible up to the age of nine.

In England, free school meals are universal in reception, year one and year two. However, after that parents must claim Universal Credit and earn no more than £7,400 a year.

Calling for Mr Khan’s approach to be rolled out in other areas, the Food Foundation urged other metro mayors to back its campaign, saying “the government’s restrictive WSF criteria means thousands of local children are not getting the food they need to concentrate and learn”.

image caption, Ms Shaw said any move to introduce free school meals would need to be fully funded

Kathryn Shaw, headteacher of All Saints Primary School in Bradford, said it would be “brilliant” if the initiative was introduced but warned not to do it without extra support.

She said it currently costs the school £2,700 a week to provide hot school lunches, adding that costs have risen by around 20 per cent in recent months due to inflation.

Mrs Shaw said: “We currently have around 44% of our 650 children accessing free school meals.

“Obviously, if we go to universal, we’re talking about a 55% increase. That’s a huge amount of money in this school. It should be properly funded.”

Under the government’s school funding formula, children in central London receive £8,800, compared with £6,350 in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Mr Khan’s free meals policy – which cost £130m in its first year – is paid for out of his £20bn annual council budget.

The West Yorkshire mayor, meanwhile, has £850 million to spend over the next year.

Asked if there was a postcode lottery around school desks, Ms Shaw said: “It feels like it.

“If they’re already doing it (in London) and we’re not, and we know Bradford is an area where nutrition is a concern, then you wonder why it hasn’t been tested somewhere up north.

“Our children deserve the best, just like everywhere else in the country.”

image caption, Jasmine said she wants there to be a fair approach across the country

Children at the school said they were keen to see free meals available in Bradford.

Jasmine told the BBC: “I think it’s not fair how London gets healthy hot meals and doesn’t have to pay at all and how in Bradford we have to pay for our meals.”

Colleague Marta said: “We the people of the north matter as much as the people of the south. I think we all deserve equality because that’s the strength of Britain.”

Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin said: “I know first-hand how important free school meals are in tackling hunger and poverty and I want to do more to help.

“In West Yorkshire, we’ve delivered millions of pounds of support to families through our cost of living fund and we’re giving people the skills they need to secure well-paid jobs, putting more money in the pockets of families who greater need.

“But without more power and more money, that decision is in the hands of the government. After 14 years of cuts and austerity, people deserve better.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We are committed to giving every child, whatever their background, the best start in life.

“We have extended eligibility for free school meals to more groups of children than any other government in the last half century, more than doubling the number of children receiving free school meals since 2010, from a sixth to more than a third.

“We will continue to monitor eligibility for free school meals to ensure they support those who need them most.”

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