An alliance of health professionals have expressed "deep concern" over the Government's decision to axe plans to extend free school meals provision to half a million primary school children from low-income families.
The Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Royal College of Physicians have written a letter to education secretary Michael Gove, condemning the move, according to the Guardian.
Together with the Faculty of Public Health, Diabetes UK and the National Heart Forum, as well as three major teaching unions - the Child Poverty Action Group and the Children's Food Campaign - the colleges said the shelved scheme would have cut education and health inequalities and lifted 50,000 young people out of poverty by giving them more nutritious lunches.
"In a country where almost one-third of children are overweight or obese by the time they reach the end of primary school, school meals have an important role to play in developing healthy eating habits," they wrote.
"Only 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards for school meals. As a result, those children who are not eligible for free meals, and whose parents are unable to afford to pay for a school meal each day, are unable to eat as healthily as their peers."
In a letter to his predecessor Ed Balls, Michael Gove said the plans had to be ditched because the sum of £85m allocated by the previous Government to extend free school meals this year fell far short of the £125m "true cost" estimated by the new Department for Education.
A spokesman said "The government's priority for this year has to be to invest the savings we have made on FSM within our budget, after our contribution to deficit reduction, in measures that most directly affect attainment for the poorest pupils."
However, no announcement has yet been made regarding the future of the School Lunch Grant, the transitional funding introduced in 2005 to increase school meals take-up by keeping costs down. Currently it is scheduled to cease in March next year and there have been suggestions it may continue as part of a Dedicated Schools Grant. However this potential outcome has caused concern that the cash will be spent elsewhere.
Beverley Baker, chair of the Local Authority Caterers Association](http://www.laca.co.uk/) (LACA), said: "It absolutely needs to be ring fenced rather than included in a block grant. Otherwise schools will not use the money as intended to support the school meal."
Caterer, in association with LACA launched its School Meals Matter campaign calling on the government to commit to support the school meals service and continue investment.
By Janie Stamford
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