Can free school meals help tackle predicted rise in food poverty? asks council

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Council.

The Town Hall is looking at how its Universal Free School Meals (UFSM) policy fits into its wider attempt to tackle the “emerging reality” of the borough’s children not knowing where their next meal will be coming from.

Just under 40 per cent of Islington’s children live in challenging financial circumstances, with over 14,000 children in Islington considered at high risk of food poverty.

Marjon Willers, Islington’s specialist dietitian for schools and early years, said: “I would say that Islington is seen as an example with universal free school meals.

“I’m really pleased that the council has been supporting it and that we’ve been given as officers the opportunity to work on that.

“It’s very difficult to measure it, but I think it does make a difference.”

The review of the policy comes as the council attempts to mitigate the predictions of the 2014 Cripplegate/NEF report, Distant Neighbours, including a widening gap between rich and poor in a “starkly polarised and unequal” borough.

Islington funds UFSM for all nursery and KS2 primary pupils. The nationally-funded policy feeds only children in reception and Years 1 and 2.

The results of the borough’s eight-year-old policy are overwhelmingly positive, with 94 per cent of Islington’s infant school children enjoying healthy free school meals at lunchtime compared to an 86 per cent national average.

This was the second best ranking in the country in 2018, and the top ranking in London.

Council officers are now also looking at how to develop the Lunch Bunch pilot project further in time for Easter.

Lunch Bunch was held in four venues across the borough in summer 2018, offering a healthy meal for six to 12-year-olds of parents earning £16,190 or less.