two toddler playing letter cubes
Photo by Marisa Howenstine on Unsplash

On 26th April, Camden Council debated the impact of the cost of living crisis on women and girls. Our leader Georgia Gould commissioned the Camden Women’s Forum to analyse the impact of soaring bills, rising rents and ever depleting central govt support. The resulting report, “It’s Becoming A Luxury To Livemakes for uncomfortable reading and makes a series of recommendations to the council aimed at addressing some of the issues women are facing as a result of the current crisis.

Being a vibrant inner London authority, we’ve always put children and young people first in Camden. We go over and above what the Government provides in terms of childcare. Not only do we offer eligible 2, 3 and 4 year old children free early education and childcare for 15 hours a week during term time, we have our own scheme which provides up to 30 hours a week during term time for Camden residents who are not eligible for the Government’s scheme. Under Cllr Georgia Gould’s leadership, I’ve been given the responsibility as Cabinet Member for Best Start for Children and Families I have the honour and the privilege of keeping children safe, reducing child poverty, supporting families, excellence in education for all (including our schools which are almost all still Local Authority Maintained) and supporting children and parents in our communities through our early years’ services. It’s not just a massive portfolio, it’s a massive responsibility.

That’s one reason I am delighted that Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor, has proposed one-off funding of £130m to ensure that all primary school children in the capital can receive free school meals for the 2034/24 academic year. We’ve all noticed that prices are rising and wages aren’t keeping up, and I know that even those in well-paid work have had to cut back on essentials. The Mayor’s scheme should save hard-pressed parents something like £440 a year, an incredibly valuable amount for hard-pressed families.

It does feel that there is something of a sea change in how free school meals are considered – it’s widely recognised that hunger is a factor in poor outcomes at school. Indeed, the Labour-run Welsh Government is working towards all primary school children getting free school meals by 2024. I know it’s something that many councils would like to be able to do but would struggle to fund themselves, and the bottom line is that after year on year cuts to council budgets by Government (and now inflation) there is a limit to what is possible. However, once the London wide pilot comes to an end, we in Camden have committed to continuing free school meals for all primary school children in the borough – a key recommendation of the Camden Women’s Forum report and a crucial action we can take to improve the lives of children and families in our borough.