London mayor’s £5m pledge for school meals with religious dietary requirements

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London mayor’s £5m pledge for school meals with religious dietary requirements

Jewish schools face reduced availability of kosher meals due to rising costs that have forced specialist catering businesses to withdraw services.

School meals
School meals

The mayor of London has pledged £5million in backup funds to support primary schools whose meals require religious dietary requirements. 

Additionally, Sadiq Khan is calling on the government to match his promise in order to secure emergency free school meals funding for children in London’s state primary schools.

Sadiq Khan Saturday May 8, 2021.

Barnet Labour has welcomed the announcement from the mayor. It says the contingency fund “for those schools that bear extra catering costs in delivering his pledge to ensure free lunches for all primary school children is an important step to resolving this vital issue.”

Religious groups in Barnet that would benefit from the provision, include Jewish and Muslim communities that require meals to be Kosher and Halal respectively.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper in February, Khan announced plans to offer free school meals to all primary schools across London in a bid to tackle what he described as a failure by government ministers to address the cost of living crisis.

The proposal, worth around £130 million and commencing this September, is designed to save families around £440 per child.

However, as reported by Jewish News, Jewish schools have been facing reduced availability of kosher meals due to rising costs that have forced specialist catering businesses to withdraw their services.

Schools network, Partnership for Jewish Schools (PaJeS) told Jewish News this week it is in discussions with the Department for Education to explore other possible avenues to address the crisis including “investigating the possibility of parents assisting in meeting the differential in the cost for kosher meals”.

PaJeS’ Rabbi David Meyer told Jewish News: “We applaud the mayor on his initiative to provide a free school meal for every primary child. Especially in the current climate there are too many children not receiving a nutritious meal, and sadly on occasion, any meal during the day.

“These challenges similarly impact on many families within the community and it is important that provision is made available to those children requiring a kosher provision.  We are therefore delighted that the Mayor has accepted our submissions and made contingencies to ensure that primary children, no matter their faith, receive a free school meal.

“The mayor’s plan is limited to supporting children in key stage 2 and we are currently in discussion with the Department of Education regarding the provision of kosher universal free school meals for key stage 1 students and those at secondary school.  We have emphasised that it is essential there is parity of opportunity for all children irrespective of their religious beliefs.”

Andrew Gilbert, from the London Jewish Forum said the organisation has “worked hard over recent weeks on the issues of the implication of the Mayor’s announcement of free school meals for key stage two and its implications for kosher meals in Jewish Schools.

“Rabbi Joel Sager of Pardes House Primary has brought together evidence and worked on solutions for a wide number of affected schools.

“The team in the education department at Barnet Council have sensitively understood the issues too. The GLA free school meals team have listened to us and now the mayor and deputy mayor have responded.”

Gilbert calls the contingency fund “a major the right direction” but also calls for government to “respond on terms of key stage one where they brought in free school meals in a time without a cost of living crisis then it will be a challenge for the community and the schools and the parents to make this all work and contribute too.”

He adds that he hopes “this is a vital first step to a solution”.

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