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  • May Mcnicol-Williams

London News Highlights

Hello, and welcome to the March edition of London News Highlights in the Toast!! In this edition I will cover upcoming train strikes, the rolling out of free school meals in the coming months and many protests taking place across London for various reasons.

Train strikes

London Underground drivers are to strike on 15 March – budget day – in a dispute over pensions and working arrangements.

The Aslef union announced on Wednesday that members would strike for 24 hours, in a row over changes to working arrangements and pensions.

Tube drivers voted by 99% in favour of strike action, on a turnout of 77%.

“The size of these ‘yes’ votes and the large turnouts show that our members are not prepared to put up any longer with the threats to their working conditions and pensions,” said Finn Brennan, Aslefs full-time organiser on the underground.

“We understand that TfL faces financial challenges, post-pandemic, but our members are simply not prepared to pay the price for the government’s failure to properly fund London’s public transport system.”

He added: “We are always prepared to discuss and negotiate on changes, but our members want an unequivocal commitment from TfL that management will not continue to force through detrimental changes without agreement.

Free school meals

Free school meals will be offered to all primary school pupils across London for a year under plans by Sadiq Khan to tackle what he said was a failure by ministers to step up support during the cost-of-living crisis.

The move will come into force from September, saving families about £440 for every child and benefiting 270,000 children, City Hall estimates.

“The cost-of-living crisis means families and children across our city are in desperate need of additional support,” Khan said, before a visit to his old school, Fircroft primary in Tooting, south London, where he apparently received free school meals himself in his youth.

Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren live in poverty but are not eligible for free school meals because of the government’s “restrictive” eligibility criteria, the mayor’s office said.

A household on universal credit must make less than £7,400 a year – after tax and not including benefits – to be eligible.

Khan’s one-off proposal, worth £130m and funded from higher-than-expected business rates income, is designed to fill that gap by making free meals universal across London primary schools.

The average cost of a hot school meal for a primary school child was estimated by City Hall to be between £2.25 and £2.35; because children are expected to attend school for 190 days a year, the saving per child for families is projected to be about £440.

An official announcement was made on 23 February, as part of Khan’s final budget before the mayoral election scheduled for 2 May 2024.

Arrest made at drag queen story time protest.

One person has been arrested amid a protest outside Tate Britain, where a drag queen storytelling event for children was being hosted.

Met Police Officers reported one person was arrested at the scene for making racially aggressive comments to an officer outside the gallery.

The Tate was hosting Drag Queen Story Hour UK on Saturday, with tales told by Aida H Dee, who the gallery’s website describes as “the first drag artist in Europe to read stories to children in a nursery”.

A right-wing group of protesters demonstrated outside the gallery and were met by counter protesters led by trans-rights campaigners and political groups, including Stand Up to Racism.

Passers-by and counter protestors reported that the police had to form a human corridor of sorts leading to the entrance of the gallery so attendants could actually go to the event.

Aida H Dee said that risk assessments had taken place beforehand but that it “felt ridiculous” that they were necessary. She told Pink News that being invited to the Tate for this event was an honour, especially during LGBTQ+ history. She has previously been targeted by protestors at her readings.

And, although 5 protestors managed to get inside the gallery, the shows “went swimmingly” according to Aida.

refugees protest against being moved to Bedfordshire from London

Dozens of asylum seekers have staged a protest inside a Greenwich hotel where they have been for 18 months, after being given just a few hours’ notice that they were due to be moved to Bedfordshire.

Four police cars, a police van and an ambulance arrived at the scene of the protest and armed officers, who entered the building. One asylum seeker was arrested, handcuffed and taken away in a police van.

It is understood that over 130 asylum seekers had been living in the hotel for the past 18 months and were told on the 6th of February they would be moved to Bedfordshire the following morning.

Many of the residents had been studying, volunteering or made links with the community while living there. One man, who had recently turned 18, uses a wheelchair and had been undergoing medical treatment in a London hospital. An unnamed charity worker supporting those at the hotel reportedly said, “I am really disgusted with how they are being treated. It is shameful.”

Another protest took place over another enforced move from a west London hotel to a hotel outside London last October. Many children were settled in a local school and the headteacher of the school joined the demonstration. Ultimately, all asylum seekers staying in the hotel were moved.

Some residents spoke to reporters earlier in the month; ““They came to us without prior notice. I have a medical condition. I cannot leave this place. I fled war in my country. I have just started to rebuild my life here and now I have to be uprooted again.”

“I was part way through a maths GCSE at the local college,” said another, “I won’t be able to continue with that now. I feel like time is slipping away from me. I can try to register at a college near where the Home Office has moved us to in Bedfordshire, but I’ll have to wait until September and maybe by then they [Home Office] will have moved us again.”

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