Community ‘deeply appreciative’ of Mayor’s £3.50 kosher school meal pledge

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Community ‘deeply appreciative’ of Mayor’s £3.50 kosher school meal pledge

25 Jewish stare-run primary schools in London to receive funding for £3.50 kosher lunches, Sadiq Khan confirms

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Cultivated thin cut steak by Aleph Farms (Photo: Business Wire)
Cultivated thin cut steak by Aleph Farms (Photo: Business Wire)

State-run Jewish primary schools in London offering kosher lunches to pupils aged between seven and 11, will receive funding amounting to £3.50 per meal at the start of the new academic year this September, Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office has confirmed.

The cash boost, which Jewish News understands amounts to around £4 million in total, means the capital’s 25 Jewish primary schools receive 85p extra in funding for kosher meals, compared to the £2.65p offered to all boroughs for non-kosher lunches for Key Stage Two pupils.

The mayor confirmed last month that he had made an extra £5 million available for “extraordinary costs” following a pledge earlier this year to provide £130m emergency funding to provide free school meals for state primary school children in the capital in response to the cost of living crisis.

Sources told Jewish News around 75 per cent of the additional £5million had been used to try to ease the kosher meal crisis, with funds also being used to help children with special needs.

Khan has now called on the government to match his funding commitments for pupils in the younger Key Stage One bracket.

Sadiq Khan speaks at City Hall event

Barnet Council, home to many Jewish primary schools, also confirmed they would be subsidising a kosher kitchen, which would be made available to the caterers involved in the preparation and distribution of school meals throughout the borough.

In May, Jewish News revealed how pupils around 15 Jewish primary schools were going without hot lunches, after a succession of catering firms announced they could no longer continue supplying kosher meals.

The difference in the cost of producing kosher lunches and the amount of funding received from the government was at the heart of the problem.

London Assembly member and Barnet Labour councillor Anne Clarke

This week’s announcement by the mayor followed three months of discussions with communal leaders including Rabbi Joel Sager, of Pardes House Primary School, the London Jewish Forum, councillors in Barnet, representatives from the United Synagogue and Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJeS).

Rabbi Sager told Jewish News: “After a huge amount of work from different people and groups over the last three months regarding this challenging issue for our schools, I am delighted by the support we have received from the Mayor of London, further to his equalities review. We are deeply appreciative of this.

“The KS2 universal free school meals uplift for schools with a protected characteristic, including religion means that our schools are in a much stronger position to offer our pupils hot kosher meals in due course.

“This is not the end of the story as even the uplift will not cover all our lunch costs so conversations are ongoing with regard to further communal support.”

London Assembly representative and Barnet Labour council official Anne Clarke added: “I know how worried many of our Jewish schools have been and we are delighted that this progress has been made.

“There remain outstanding issues around ensuring that Kosher meals can be delivered in a sustainable way, and we will continue to work on those.

“This result shows what can happen working collaboratively with the GLA, Barnet Council and Barnet’s Jewish community.

“I want to thank the leadership of Barnet’s Jewish schools, the London Jewish Forum and the cross-party group of councillors who have been working on this issue. I look forward to further discussions on how we can continue to support all of our schools.”

Whilst Andrew Gilbert, co-chair of London Jewish Forum, who was himseld interviewed for the Equalities Impact Assessment with Rabbi Sager and Fleurise Lewis (United Synagogue Trustee) said “I have been working with Rabbi Sager and Fleurise Lewis who alerted me to this problem a number of months ago.

“The commissioning of the assessment and understanding that dietary requirements are a protected characteristic is a landmark decision.

“We also organised for Motti Pinter from Chinuch UK to be interviewed to make the case for private Charedi Schools even though they did not fall within the guidelines for state schools.

“The resultant report is remarkable and will influence public policy at a national and local level and maybe even internationally.

“We are so thankful for the detailed attention of the Mayor and his team that has led to the 85p extra for Kosher School meals for 7-11 year olds in Jewish State Schools. ”

Andrew Gilbert

The official equalities report submitted to Mayor Khan last month confirmed the need for an uplift in funding for free kosher meals in schools in recognition of the extra costs around providing meals to religiously observant families.

It also noted that in areas with high proportions of Muslim pupils, “caterers reported that due to a high demand for halal meat, they have negotiated lower costs (due to economies of scale) with suppliers.”

It added:” This means there is currently no difference in price between halal or haram (forbidden) meat.”

But the report continued:” For boroughs with a high number of Jewish children, kosher meals often incur an additional cost.

“The cost difference for this type of meal was reported at £3.27 (62 pence more than the Mayor’s £2.65). For other boroughs, kosher meals are considered a ‘special meal’ and are less common.”

Up to 1,500 boys are estimated to attend unregistered schools in Hackney (Screengrab)

It said that anecdotal evidence from early engagement with a sample group suggests that the price point for free school meals of £2.65, may not be enough to cover whole meal costs for children.

“For example, anecdotal evidence suggests that Jewish Kosher meals in state-funded Jewish schools may generally come in higher than the price point, by around £2-£3,” the report said.

“This is generally related to the slightly higher price of Kosher food and particularly Kosher meat. This price differential could lead to the need for either subsidisation by the schools or families; diversion of funding from other areas of the school; or a move to cold meals for all children, with a lower price point but also a potentially lower nutritional value.”

The report recommended looking at “options around external provision of Kosher meals that would be pre-ordered to prevent waste and cross contamination.”

The assessment also presented a stark warning about the growing number of pupils from within the Strictly Orthodox community who attended “independent” schools outside of the state sector across the capital, who would not be eligible for funding of kosher meals.

It stated that for the 2022-23 academic year, there were 76 registered independent faith-based schools in London. These schools have 10,949 primary-school pupils aged 7-11, and of these, approximately 50 are strictly Orthodox Jewish schools.

According to the most up-to-date reliable data, there are similar numbers of Jewish pupils in mainstream (both state-maintained and independent) Jewish schools, as there are in strictly Orthodox (both state-maintained and independent) Jewish schools.

It noted “the average Charedi household size is almost two and a half times the size of the UK average household; the cost of Kosher food is over two-and-a-half times the cost of non-Kosher equivalents.

“They also have said that families in these communities often have minimal savings, and receive housing benefits and tax credits.

“Such families are facing financial hardship due to the cost-of-living crisis, specifically the rising costs of Kosher food products.”

But the report also noted: “There is no clear evidence that suggests that strictly Orthodox schools – including Charedi community schools – are unique to other schools in the independent sector, in terms of their charitable aims or their approach to the admission of children from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

“However, the mayor will seek to support Charedi communities as part of his wider support to families.

Asked to comment on the £3.50 kosher school meal pledge Mayor Khan told Jewish News: “It is shocking that in a city as prosperous as ours, families are struggling to feed themselves as they deal with the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

“I have continually called on government to help already-stretched households, but ministers have simply failed to act.

“That’s why I stepped in with an unprecedented £130m emergency funding to provide free school meals for state primary school children for the next academic year, and have set aside an additional £5m for any extraordinary costs associated with their delivery, such as ensuring kosher meals are available.

“I’m determined to do all I can to support families through the cost of living crisis, and by ensuring children – no matter their background – don’t go hungry in the classroom, we can build a better London for all.”

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