Schoolboy eating a meal at school

More free school meals in our war on food poverty

Hammersmith & Fulham Council has stepped up the fight in its war on food poverty.

From September, H&F will now offer a universal free breakfast to every primary school pupil to help local families combat food insecurity. It will also be the first in England and Wales to launch a pilot scheme to deliver free lunches in two secondary schools. The council has been working closely with local schools to reach those most in need.

The free school lunches will start in January 2020 and be offered to pupils at Fulham College Boys’ School and Woodlane High School as part of a four-year pilot programme. The scheme will be paid for entirely by community contributions won by the council taking a tough approach in negotiations with property developers.

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“It’s appalling that children are still going to school hungry in one of the world’s wealthiest capitals,” said Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. “We must put an end to that. Our schools are now the frontline in our war against hunger.”

H&F’s new universal breakfast and pilot lunch schemes are part of the council’s ground-breaking approach to tackle food poverty.

H&F is working with schools, volunteer organisations and local businesses to rise to the challenge as a key aim in the council’s Industrial Strategy to harness the economic prosperity of our booming borough.

Cllr Stephen Cowan with students from Fulham College Boys’ School
Cllr Stephen Cowan (centre) with students and staff of Fulham College Boys’ School

Not working

The national free school meal system is not working. The threshold for families to receive school meals is too high and the stigma of receiving a school meal is damaging to children and their families.

In the UK, having one parent in paid work usually makes families ineligible for free school meals. Yet the majority of Londoners in poverty are in a working family – with almost 10 per cent of poor families having two parents in full-time work.

A recent report by University College of London and Child Poverty Action Group documents the ‘stigma and shame’ of free school meals.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “We all want children to get the most out of their education. But research we published with UCL shows that too many kids are routinely going hungry during the school day because there isn’t enough money at home. That isn’t right.

“Poverty and hunger exclude children from some learning and social opportunities and leave them exposed to stigma and shame. H&F’s pilot recognises the scale of the problem and strives to address it head on.”

Food equals results

The new universal breakfast scheme means H&F will now fund all primary schools who provide school breakfast clubs to make them free to parents.

H&F will also support primary schools to increase uptake in existing breakfast clubs and increase outreach with parents to feed more children in need.

Kellogg Foundation research shows that, according to teachers, if a child arrives at school hungry they lose one hour of learning time a day. Or if a child arrives hungry once a week, they’d lose 8.4 weeks – or 70 per cent – of a term during their primary school career.

And there is strong evidence that a high-quality breakfast club offer can be responsible for a two-month attainment gain at Year 2 and Year 6, research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Education Endowment Foundation shows.

“Food poverty is a national crisis,” Cllr Cowan added. “This initiative is a step forward in the fight to end this blight on our children and their future well-being.”

The food poverty crisis is growing in H&F. Local foodbanks gave out 11,706 three-day parcels last year – an increase from 4,400 parcels in 2014-15.

Crisis

Claire Fletcher, Headteacher at St Paul’s CE Primary School in Hammersmith, said: “I welcome H&F’s commitment to tackle the very real issue of food poverty.

“I look forward to working closely to create the most innovative and effective solutions to this problem, ensuring that no child in H&F starts or ends the school day feeling hungry.”

While Sally Brooks, Headteacher at Fulham College Boys’ School, said: “The impact of free school lunches for our students – especially those who are disadvantaged – will be immeasurable.

“Providing the boys with a nutritious meal will not only allow them to compete in an academic environment, but will also give them the nutrition needed to go above and beyond what is required of them at school and actively participate in extra-curricular activities.”

And Claire Maynard, Headteacher at Woodlane High School in White City, said: “We’re delighted to be part of H&F’s efforts to tackle child poverty. The pilot means our most vulnerable pupils can always gain a hot, nutritious meal without stigma.

“While it is widely known that hunger can impact on progress, attainment and behaviour, the impact on families is likely to prove a significant boost in challenging financial times.”

Support

A free breakfast club offer could save a struggling family £380 per year for every child in primary school.

Currently every primary school in H&F is rated ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ by Ofsted. We are one of only two boroughs in England and Wales rated this highly.

What we’re doing to fight poverty in H&F

Some of the things we've been doing to fight poverty in H&F include:

  • The H&F independent Poverty and Worklessness Commission was set up to find the causes of poverty in the borough, and to develop bold new ways of tackling this.
  • Hammersmith & Fulham Foodbank provides help and support to those in need in the borough. That includes emergency food parcels, and advice or referrals to other organisations to help families in food poverty. The Foodbank receives finding from H&F Council, and Hammersmith Town Hall acts as a collection point for public donations of food.
  • Rose Vouchers is a scheme to help people on low incomes to get fresh fruit and vegetables from local traders. It also shares tips on health eating.
  • The Work Zone is a dedicated service helping people to secure jobs. Based at Shepherds Bush Library at Westfield London, the Work Zone team helps jobseekers gain the right skills and qualifications needed and valued by employers, and offers jobseekers a clear advantage in their search for employment.
  • Our goal is for there to be nobody sleeping rough in our borough. The independent H&F Rough Sleeping Commission was established to help meet this vision by developing ground-breaking new policies in this area.
  • Hundreds of new homes are being built, and many more improved, for local people. We are presently delivering more genuinely affordable homes, to rent and to buy, than at any point in a decade.

Fulham College Boys’ School students eating lunch
Fulham College Boys’ School students eating lunch

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