Eat for Free Newham changes – have your say

Newham Council is inviting residents to have their say on proposals to change the borough’s Eat for Free programme

Newham Council is inviting residents to have their say on proposals to change the borough’s Eat for Free programme, after increasing budget cuts by central government have left the existing scheme unaffordable.

The scheme, which has been running for more than a decade, sees every primary aged pupil in the borough offered a free school meal.

All pupils in reception, year one and year two, as well as children whose families are eligible for certain benefits, are entitled to government-funded free school meals. Newham Council pays for this entitlement to be extended to all pupils in years three to six, regardless of their family income.

The popular Eat for Free programme sees around 12,500 pupils in years 3-6 (90% of those eligible) take up the offer, helping local families to make ends meet and ensuring thousands of children can enjoy a healthy school lunch. It also boosts the local economy, creating additional catering jobs. But the scheme comes at a cost of around £6million per year to the council.

With unprecedented funding cuts and the impact of Covid-19 meaning Newham Council has had to save around £250m during the past 10 years, it is now proposing changes to the scheme that could save up to £1.9m per year.

The proposals include:

  • Asking parents of children not entitled to free school meals to pay a contribution of between 60p and £1.42 towards the £2.42 daily cost of providing a school lunch, with the council meeting the remaining cost
  • Excluding children who do not live in Newham from the Eat for Free scheme

Cllr Sarah Ruiz, Newham Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Children Social Care, said:

“There is no doubt that our Eat for Free scheme has been a huge success – and one which we are very proud of. It has helped thousands of Newham’s children, giving them essential nutrition and removing from their families the burden of paying for term-time lunches.

“But the unprecedented economic situation facing our borough – with government cuts and the devastating impact of Covid-19 compounding the financial challenge – leaves us with no choice but to look very carefully at how best to make the savings we need.

“We are committed to looking at all options for savings. These proposals would enable us to save around £1.9m from the £6m annual cost, while still enabling us to offer subsidised, healthy meals to every primary aged pupil in the borough.

“Infant school pupils and older children entitled to free school meals would continue to receive them, while others would be asked to make a small contribution to the daily cost. We feel that this could offer the best balance between maintaining such an important scheme while making some vital savings. I encourage all families to have their say on the proposals.”

The council’s Eat for Free task and finish group is continuing to look at other ways the savings might be achieved, with the consultation forming one part of their work.

The consultation is open now, with residents invited to read more and have their say through our online survey 

Consultation findings will be reported back to Cabinet and Full Council ahead of the final budget setting meeting in February 2021.

Published: 17 Dec 2020