Pupils could get free meals

THE BOROUGH S primary school children could be offered free meals for two years to help boost their health and get families through the recession Barking and Dagenham Council will make a bid to take part in a national pilot scheme launched by the governme

THE BOROUGH'S primary school children could be offered free meals for two years to help boost their health and get families through the recession

Barking and Dagenham Council will make a bid to take part in a national pilot scheme launched by the government, the executive agreed.

If the bid is successful all primary school pupils in the area would receive a free, daily hot lunch from September 2009 until July 2011.

It is hoped the initiative will cut the borough's high childhood obesity levels, among the worst in London, improve concentration in class, and help families cope with the economic downturn.

The pilot is only open to deprived areas, where at least 15% of pupils are already eligible for free school meals.

As part of the scheme, each child is given a special card, which keeps a record of all the meals they choose. The pupils are then rewarded when they make a healthy choice.

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The data on the cards is also used by the Primary Care Trust and the government to monitor the scheme's progress.

The programme would be part funded by the government, with the remaining funds being met by NHS Barking and Dagenham.

At the Executive last week Cllr Val Rush said she backed the bid, adding: "The great thing about this scheme is it will benefit everyone, including low- income families who currently aren't eligible for free meals."

Cllr Jeanne Alexander said she thought the scheme could help reduce bullying because pupils would no longer need to carry money.

Cllr Graham Bramley, however, envisaged problems when the pilot comes to an end: "If you implement this, then there is no going back. Can the borough afford to continue funding the programme without government help?