Viewpoints: Free school meals for infants

School dinner Dora Dixon Fyle shares a school lunch with pupils

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has said all infants at schools in England will get free school lunches from next September.

The change - for children in reception, Year 1 and Year 2 - could save parents about £400 a year per child, the government says. The BBC News website has gathered a range of viewpoints.

Labour councillor Dora Dixon Fyle, Southwark, London, where free school meals have been piloted

The main response we have got from our parents was, "When are you going to offer them to all children?"

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It's not just health, it's the social interaction of sitting at the table”

End Quote Dora Dixon Fyle Cabinet member for children's services, Southwark

Beforehand, the kids were bringing in crisps and bread and butter and not really eating healthy foods. And now going round all the schools the children are not only eating vegetables but some of them are even growing them.

In one of our schools in Nunhead they have got a big outdoor oven, which is amazing.

The meals are culturally sensitive and I'm told everyone is taking it up - even the teachers are taking part. It's not just health, it's the social interaction of sitting at the table.

There's nothing more uplifting than having a table of children from different social backgrounds all sitting around the table together - being told how to use their knives and forks properly.

The teachers tell us that in the afternoon the children's concentration level is much better. When the kids were coming to school with crisps and fizzy drinks they used to get a bit hyper, now their behaviour is much better.

Matthew Sinclair, chief executive, the TaxPayers' Alliance

There is no such thing as free lunch, especially one doled out by a politician. The pilot of this scheme didn't improve pupil health and there are better ways to address child nutrition than yet another universal benefit.

This is a party conference gimmick from politicians who love to wade in and pretend they are doing something about the pressure on the finances of struggling families by promising subsidies paid for with other people's money.

This announcement means taxing those on low and middle incomes to pay for hand-outs to affluent families. It's incredible to see it proposed by Nick Clegg, who was, until very recently, rightly arguing against universal benefits for wealthy households.

If politicians really want to tackle the cost of living, they should scrap the range of regulations that make everything from energy bills to the weekly shop more expensive and cut taxes to leave more money in people's pockets.

Vicky and Jo, working mothers at Kinderland play centre in Hull

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I think it'll help a lot of parents out”

End Quote Vicky

Vicky: I think it's a good idea - I've got three children in school and at £2.10 a day it's a lot of money, so mine have packed lunch. My brother-in-law has two kids and they only stay for school dinner twice a week because it's too expensive.

When I heard it on the news this morning I thought it would be good for us. I think a lot of parents who struggle to pay for school dinners will be pleased, I think it'll help a lot of parents out.

Jo: My children have packed lunches because they're fussy eaters. If they wanted school dinners I would pay £2 for it. But it's good it's free.

It's a good idea and would encourage healthy eating. It would help child poverty too. It's got to help people.

We've got three kids and my husband has two jobs and I work here and we just get by on what we earn. I'm all for it because I just feel we're the people who're penalised.

Alison Garnham, chief executive, Child Poverty Action Group

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Alison Garnham

No child should be too hungry to learn”

End Quote Alison Garnham Child Poverty Action Group

Providing free school meals to all children actually improves help for children in poverty. More poor children in working families will now be eligible and fewer children will be put off by worries that they will be singled out as being poor because they have a free school meal.

Schools and teachers already make huge efforts to register those eligible for free school meals and reduce stigma but a move towards a universal system will significantly improve eligibility and take-up of free school meals by children in poverty.

Taking all things into consideration, the government's child poverty record threatens to be bleak, with over a million children being thrown into poverty by 2020. Today's welcome announcement will make things a little less bleak.

Providing free school meals for young primary school children will help put pounds in the pockets of parents struggling to pay for school lunches but it is also a necessary investment for the future that will pay off by improving child health and raising educational attainment. No child should be too hungry to learn.

Anne Bull, chair of the Local Authority Caterers Association

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Anne Bull

This is a huge step forward”

End Quote Anne Bull Chair of Local Caterers Association

We are absolutely delighted by the announcement that all infant school children will receive free school meals.

It also provides a huge boost for the school catering industry and will be very welcome news for school food providers. We hope that funds will be made available to ensure that all schools have the necessary facilities to provide hot nutritious meals to every pupil in England.

This is a huge step forward and will make a massive difference for children in terms of health, attainment and social mobility.

There have been multiple reports in recent weeks on the financial difficulties faced by families and the impact that this has had on children's diets.

This announcement will be a great relief to those across the country who are struggling to make ends meet, with initial estimates suggesting that families will save on average £400 per year per child.

Ryan Bourne, head of economic research at the Centre for Policy Studies

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Ryan Bourne

It's incomprehensible”

End Quote Ryan Bourne Centre for Policy Studies

With a deficit of around £120bn, pressures of an ageing population and a continued squeeze on budgets, it's incomprehensible that the coalition should choose to prioritise a new £600m scheme to subsidise so-called "free" school meals to all 5- to 7-year-olds.

This goes against what the coalition has been doing elsewhere in its reforms of the state, where it has ended universality of, for example, child benefit.

The main beneficiaries of this will be middle-class families who do not require, and in many cases do not want, a subsidy for their children's lunches.

It's also far from clear that this is the best way of spending £600m to improve outcomes. The pilot showed improvements in attainment, but didn't compare this outcome to spending elsewhere or even tax cuts. No causal link could be explained and no health benefits were identified.

This just further erodes the concept of family responsibility for looking after their children's diets, at a high price. These dinners are not of course free, and as yet we don't know whose taxes will be raised or where spending will be cut for this new universal entitlement.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers

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Ann Bull

We hope schools will be given the help and support they need to deliver”

End Quote Russell Hobby NAHT general secretary

We welcome this announcement and we are sure it will benefit pupils, parents and schools. School leaders and teachers know the benefits to children's learning and development which come from good nutrition, and schemes such as this are good investments for the future.

An initiative such as this will also help remove the stigma surrounding free school meals and this will help not only some of the poorest families in society but also parents struggling to provide decent lunches.

However, it is essential schools have the capacity, kitchen facilities and staff to provide healthy and nutritious meals to all pupils on a daily basis. We hope schools will be given the help and support they need to deliver such an ambitious and well-meaning project within a relatively tight timeframe, particularly at schools which may need adaptations and equipment to accommodate a meal service.

Nevertheless, free school meals for all infant-age children is a bold idea and if properly rolled out we are sure it will be of enormous benefit to schools, parents and pupils.

Update 19 September: This story has been expanded to include additional views from the TaxPayers' Alliance and the Centre for Policy Studies.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Free meals is BAD IDEA. It will give kids the impression everything is free in life

    A better idea would be for the gov to grant these poor familes £100 per week extra to spent ONLY on school stuff. Taxpayers will complain, but thats nothing new they always find something silly to protest about. The kids will then have to manage this tight budget themselves, giving them experience for the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.


    Presumably at some point you will want to draw a state pension and benefit from services provided by a healthy, educated workforce."

    I suspect that unless you are paying taxes in Africa or eastern Europe, you are not currently contributing to the education costs of those who will be providing services for you when you retire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Talk about re- inventing the wheel! In the 1930's the Oslo breakfast was created to give schoolkids the best start to the day. As a child in the 1950's I ate it every morning. No cooking involved - cheap and easy to make and kids thrived on it. Why spend billions when its so easy and simple. There can't be many Mums who are unable to make a cheese sandwich! No need for olives and hummus!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Back in the sixties only two children in a class of thirty were eligible for free school meals in my class.

    Maybe we need to redefine what being poor is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    To the naysayers, the reason is because children who have a hot meal at lunchtime are better behaved, can concentrate more on their lessons, and so go on to do better academically in the long run. This in turn means they can get a far better paid job, which will lead to them paying more in tax so that you can receive a fair pension.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    "I'm a single, childless, working tax payer and I resent paying for other peoples children? I'm sick of it. There seems to be nothing in it for us single, working folks"

    Presumably at some point you will want to draw a state pension and benefit from services provided by a healthy, educated workforce. We all benefit from this measure, whether or not we have kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Who's going to pay for this?

    Where's the magic budget Nick Clegg is spending?

    Why not leave the current system in place and ensure that the needy (kids with parents on benefits) get the free school meals they're entitle to without the stigma of being singled out as different.

    It's more hot air politics from the broken Con-Dem coalition. At least they won't be in Gov't after May 2015.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Greggers: I'm a single, childless, working tax payer and I resent paying for other peoples children? I'm sick of it. There seems to be nothing in it for us single, working folks.

    One day, when you are old, single, childless and no longer able to work, those children will have grown up to be your doctors, nurses, carers and social workers. Don't be so narrow minded, self centred and short sighted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    7. Jonty
    As a school Governor I think this is excellent start but it needs to go much further. There should be free school meals up to age 10/11"

    Why stop there? Why not free meals until 16? Why not 18?

    Child benefit is meant to help provide meals for children. If we're going to give out free school meals, then I hope child benefit gets cut accordingly

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    @Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells - for your information, not all poor families get free school meals. Many families on a very low income do not qualify for free school meals because the parents are in work. As an ex-headteacher, I used to find it heartbreaking than parents would be so proud of getting a job, but really struggle once the free school meals were taken away because they were now working.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    We had this "debate" yesterday.

    The general consensus was that the "me, me, me and I" brigade would rather hoard all their money and stuff everyone else.

    Meanwhile the sensible among us can see the value in investing in the next generation, even if it's a small gesture such as giving them "free" school meals.

    So, do we really need a 2nd HYS on it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    15. Greggers
    I'm a single, childless, working tax payer and I resent paying for other peoples children? I'm sick of it. There seems to be nothing in it for us single, working folks.
    Single, working people, with no children are there simply to pay for every one else, I thought that was obvious. That's how Labour treated you, and that's how the Coalition view you as well. Nothing changes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Why just England I live in Scotland We pay our taxes as well

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Absolutely stupid. What a waste of money. Whatever happened to responsible parenting? It is up to parents (not parent) to ensure that their kids are fed properly. Next thing you know will be schools buying clothes for the kids. If you can't afford to feed your kids then don't have them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    This has been a long time coming....all young children should have free 'healthy', 'EDIBLE' school meals and milk regardless of background.
    Encouraging table manners and social skills will benefit everyone else in public!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I'm a single, childless, working tax payer and I resent paying for other peoples children? I'm sick of it. There seems to be nothing in it for us single, working folks.

    Anyway, why are the authorities not looking at exactly why some children are not being fed adequately by the parents who have chosen to have them? If you can't afford children, don't have them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Its better than nothing but tax returns that ask families of all kinds what their housing costs are and how many dependents they support from their income in order to give a tax rebate would be much better and fairer..

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Excellent idea, there was one little boy from Coventry who would have loved a school lunch. Couple of caveats, has to be proper food cooked on site, and compulsory, no packed lunches generally full of rubbish, nor trips to the chippie.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    #3 There really is no pleasing some people. Simple answer - stop feeding your children pie and chips in the evening.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    It's a good start, it is a universal benefit that reaches all children, and it bypasses the "free school meals" snobbery and shame that currently exists - leading to many children going without. It has been proven to result in improved academic outcomes for the children in the trials. So the evidence is in favour. One minor victory for the people, next stop - stop the "bedroom tax".


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