OPINION - The Standard View: Free schools meals help every child to live up to their potential

Mandeville Primary School Associate students who all receive a free school meal. (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
Mandeville Primary School Associate students who all receive a free school meal. (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

It is hard to learn on an empty stomach. That is why we welcome the move by Mayor Sadiq Khan to extend free school meals to all primary school children to support struggling families through the cost-of-living crisis.

The decision will fund the 270,000 state primary school children in the capital who do not yet receive free school meals, of whom an estimated 100,000 live in poverty. This represents a victory for the Evening Standard’s School Hunger Special Investigation, in which we called attention to the more than 200,000 pupils in the capital living in households on universal credit but missing out on meals because their household income exceeds £7,400 a year.

This funding — only for primary school children and for one year — is to be paid for from higher-than-expected business rates. But in reality a scheme as important as this should be guaranteed by central government, and benefit pupils up and down the country. Indeed, this plan still leaves roughly 700,000 children in poverty in England not in receipt of free school meals, including 100,000 in London. Hunger does not discriminate by school age or postcode.

Ultimately, a nutritious meal should not require emergency action. Our hope is that once provided, this policy cannot be withdrawn after a year. We must not rest until every young person has the basic necessities they need to live — and live up to their potential.

Northern Irish hope

Reaching an agreement with the European Union is one thing, gaining acceptance from the DUP and the Conservative Party is quite another.

The Prime Minister has made real progress in negotiating with the EU Commission on the Northern Ireland Protocol. The basis for a deal includes the establishment of red and green lanes for products transported across the Irish Sea and a compromise on the issue of the European Court of Justice. But Rishi Sunak still has to sell it to the DUP and his backbenchers, which once again includes a certain Boris Johnson.

The former PM has urged Sunak not to jettison the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, currently paused in Parliament, which would grant the Government the power to unilaterally abandon the arrangements it had negotiated previously. Though this would be far from consequence-free and likely lead to retaliation from Brussels.

Multilateral agreement, on the other hand, would not only represent a political victory for Sunak, but help to bring about the restoration of devolved government in Stormont and provide the basis for further economic co-operation between the UK and the EU. The question is: do the DUP and Conservatives want this?

Glitz and glam rule

When the stars align in London, a good time is guaranteed to be had. From the glitz of the Baftas to the glamour of London Fashion Week, the capital is the place to be. Let’s do it again this weekend.