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Campaigners condemn Gove's decision to stop expansion of free school meals scheme

16 June 2010

A decision to shelve plans to extend free school meals provision in the UK has been condemned by campaigners against child poverty and food policy pressure group Sustain.

Education secretary Michael Gove announced the decision to mothball the scheme in an open letter to his Labour predecessor Ed Balls last week.

Head of policy at the Child Poverty Action Group, Imran Hussain described the decision as the same as an income-tax hike of £600 a year for a working poor family with two children.

"It's completely at odds with the coalition's commitment to end child poverty by 2020," he added. "Most families living below the poverty line have jobs and this measure would have helped guarantee work makes them better off."

Devised under the Labour government, the scheme could have widened the free school meals entitlement to 500,000 more low income families from its scheduled launch in September.

In addition, plans to expand a pilot scheme under which all primary children are given free lunches have also been dropped.

Gove said that Labour had under-estimated how much the extension to the pilot would cost over three years by nearly £200m, but added that the existing pilot schemes running in Durham, Wolverhampton and the London Borough of Newham would continue "so as to assess better the case for increasing eligibility in the future".

Sustain has launched a campaign calling on Gove to reconsider the cuts. In a template letter to the government minister, the organisation said: "There is good evidence of the health and educational benefits of school meals, including improving classroom behaviour and helping children develop healthy eating habits which will stay with them for the long term."

In England, about three million children are living in poverty. In the 2009 school census in England, 656,500 children in nursery and primary education qualified for free meals.

Michael Gove blocks extension of free school meals >>

Free school dinners could be extended to an extra 600,000 pupils >>

School Meals Matter Campaign >>

Free school dinner pilot boosts uptake in County Durham to 86% >>

By Janie Stamford

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