Tower Hamlets provides free school meals to all secondary school pupils

Tower Hamlets Council has exceeded expectations with the successful implementation of universal free school meals for all secondary school pupils ahead of schedule.

The initiative, launched in September, aimed for all secondary schools to incorporate the universal free school meal programme by January 2024.

All secondary schools in Tower Hamlets took on the scheme within six weeks of its launch.

Councillor Mohammed Maium Miah Talukdar, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Education, Youth and Lifelong Learning, said: “I feel very proud because this is one of the best investments we are putting into our community because it’s about our young people.

“Everything we do, children are at the frontline.

“We will listen to them, they will steer us and we will support them.”

With Tower Hamlets facing a child poverty rate of 47.5%, the highest rate in the UK, the universal free school meals initiative provides vital support during the cost-of-living crisis, saving families an average of £550 per child per year.

The council has provided £722,000 of investment to schools for new equipment to be purchased and installed so that they can provide these school meals.

Councillor Talukdar emphasised that the initiative not only addresses the cost-of-living crisis but also aims to tackle the prevalent issue of obesity in the borough, with nearly half of the children in Tower Hamlets entering secondary school with excess weight.

The scheme seeks to improve the physical health of young people, promote healthy eating habits and support pupils with their learning, ultimately improving behaviour and academic achievements.

Councillor Talukdar said: “My children go to school and I know that if they have an empty stomach and if they don’t eat, then they don’t have good concentration levels, which means they move around a lot and distract others.

“Free school meals also provide an opportunity for a social and inclusive atmosphere and allow pupils to get to know others in the community.

“This is vital for the well-being of our borough.”

Tower Hamlets are the first local authority in England to roll out universal free school meals to all primary and secondary pupils up to the age of 16.

Councillor Talukdar said: “So many councils have been in touch with us, even from Scotland.

“We’ve told them, look, go for it, if you need any support, we are here.

“There’s no point saying there’s no money; you have to be brave and do it for your young because they are the future.”

As a result of these efforts, nearly 38,000 children in Tower Hamlets are set to benefit from universally free primary and secondary school meals.

Feature Image Credit: Tower Hamlets Council

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