Opposition parties add voice to criticism of Tory plans to scrap free school meals

22 May 2017 by
Opposition parties add voice to criticism of Tory plans to scrap free school meals

Conservative party plans to scrap universal infant free school meals have been widely condemned by its major political opponents, leading campaigners in the fight to improve childhood health and the hospitality industry.

According to the Education Policy Institute, the proposal could save the government £650m. The Conservatives intend to replace the free lunch with a free breakfast.

The Labour party's shadow secretary of state for education Angela Rayner has labelled the Tory proposals as a "lunch tax" that would affect 1.7 million children and cost families £450 a year per child.

"The Tories have gone from ‘Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher' to ‘Theresa May takes your dinner away', and these figures show that families across the country will pay the price," said Rayner.

The Liberal Democrats also reacted angrily to the news, dubbing the Prime Minister Theresa May the "lunch snatcher". Sarah Olney, education spokesperson for the party, said: "Children under Theresa May will go hungry: it is that stark, and that heartless."

Nick Clegg, former Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister who was the architect of the free school meals programme, lambasted the move: "This just confirms the sleight of hand from the Conservatives: scrapping universal infant school lunches hits some of the most hard-pressed families the hardest. The offer of free breakfasts won't reach the children who don't come to breakfast clubs. All Theresa May's talk of helping the ‘just about managing' will ring hollow as long as this regressive decision remains in place."

Sally Shadrack, LACA chair, described the Tory proposal as "an ill thought-out reversal of a policy", which resulted in numerous positive effects. "Scrapping it will not only have a significant negative impact on children and parents, but also on the education catering industry and food suppliers in terms of jobs and investment.

"Just four years ago the government spent millions of pounds of taxpayer money revamping school kitchens across the country to feed more children, dining rooms were extended and school and catering staff were trained to accommodate the extra numbers. Since this significant investment of public money the government have carried out no analysis of the success of this policy to date, yet they claim that replacing it with breakfast will have a comparable effect."

Shadrack also dismissed the Tories' plan to replace free lunches with free breakfasts. "In Wales, where breakfasts are already offered for free to all primary school children, less than a quarter were taking [it] up in 2016," she added.

The manifesto pledge was condemned in a letter to the Sunday Times as "madness" by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, food writer and chef Yotam Ottolenghi, and co-founders of healthy fast-food chain Leon Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, whose report on school meals was instrumental in the adoption of free meals for all infant schoolchildren in September 2014.

Oliver and his co-signatories said that "more than 80% of pupils in the first three years of primary school are now eating a healthy school lunch, compared with less than 45% in 2013" and urged Prime Minister Theresa May to reconsider her proposals "for the health of the nation".

Jamie Oliver and Leon founders hits out at Tory plans to scrap free school lunches >>

Universal free school meals bridges rich-poor divide >>

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