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 90.

    85. Victor Ludo
    How can you disagree with the idea of giving healthier food to young children for free?

    What I disagree with is giving rich parents who don't need it £500+ a year. So basically they can use my taxes to pay the car tax on their Porsche.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    I know of one school that has just got rid of its kitchen. Suddenly £600M is found but in education terms it may not be the best use of resources. It is a bit sad that this all the Lib Dems appear to have got from the coalition but it demonstrates that, to quote Humpty Dumpty, "words mean what I choose them to mean" - such is the case with 'tackling' the deficit which this measure will increase!

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    Comment number 88.

    Why are single people and childless couples (who pay more tax and get less credits anyway) once again expected to subsidise other peoples kids because they can't afford to have them?
    If you can't afford kids, do us all a favour and don't have them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Whether you believe that this is a correct policy or not, the BBC have made no attempt to gather a range of viewpoints for this article. Why have they not quoted someone who opposes this policy? They just have six people who support it. Shoddy journalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    If "Adults" who want to raise a family, they shouldn't expect the tax payer to now feed their kids, as well as child benefit, tax credits etc etc. Another case of nanny state! Educating Educating Educating is what these Parents need so they can earn some money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Of all of the policies, I thought would have the least amount of dissent. How can you disagree with the idea of giving healthier food to young children for free? It aids education, manners and long term health.

    Instead the majority of the comments are negative, complaining about the tax implications. This is the most short sighted, mean spirited and obtuse way of viewing the policy i can imagine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Reduce government spend, raise the tax threshold considerably - put money in peoples pockets and then let people make their own decisions.

    I thought we had got away from tax and spend, but no, even in the bad times we waste money rather tban trying to fix the roof.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Nothing is Free in the end of the day, but listening to BBC Radio 2 today I heard most people agreed with this and several said they had 5 or 6 children and 10 pound per head a week was too much, (STOP HAVING CHILDREN IF YOU CANT AFFORD THEM), I think the money is needed in other areas and secondly its a parents duty to provide sufficient and proper food for the child.

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    Comment number 82.

    So acording to the experts children who don't eat school dinners don't know how to eat with a knife and fork, don't sit round a table with others when eating (where do they eat their packed lunch?) and would otherwise have nothing to eat for lunch. What rubbish. I'm sure there is a minorty that this is true for. The temerature of food does not add nutritional value, especally when deep fried!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Parents should provide for their off springs, but the way the nanny state has been going in the past 20 years or so they are probably never going to get back to without coping without state help. The only good that would come out of this is that no more neglected 4 year old's should ever starve to death again in this country. On the down side it teaches bad parents that is Ok to be state dependant

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Its amazing how many great and goods just happen to be having lunch in primary school for the first times in their lives.

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    Comment number 79.

    I personally will still be giving my son packed lunches. We're also teaching him how to make a lot of the food that goes in his packed lunch and why a good balance is needed. We are also teaching him about food budgets. Encouraging similar approaches will help in many situations too. Sadly though many on here will simply whine about those on benefits, parents, and how the poor shouldn't reproduce.

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    Comment number 78.

    74, Jon, being a bit simplistic, if a child has specific needs, they opt out, or select a meal that suits, my grandchildren's school has 2 or 3 options a day. The majority will benefit, and those who choose not to participate pay for themselves. This is not new we had most of these variations in the 50s too, and all ate at my school

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    I think this is a gimmick to try and generate votes for an unpopular government in the next election. Lets hope the food will be good quality not muck meat from the big supermarkets sold as burgers served with chips.

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    Comment number 76.

    Personally I think the standards of school meals are very poor, bland stodge, still offering the kids pizza, chips ect. But one positive could be atchieved - getting them to become sociable and developing good table manners. How many chilfren still don't know how eat from a proper plate with a knife & fork because they are so used to eating out of a bag or cardboard box with their fingers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    As long as they are taught to hold their knives and forks properly and engage in conversation and learn about food and its provenance - money well spent

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    I'm a little confused at getting voted down when pointing out that there are problems with feeding all children as a group. A coeliac child can't digest gluten and it's life-threatening, as can be traces of nuts to one with a nut allergy. You can't feed pork to a Moslem, who must have halal meat, and you can't feed that to a Jewish child because it is not kosher. My school has all of these kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    My children dont need it

    I give them £50 a day a small pep talk and they mockery of the exams and often finds exams too easy and are somewhat bored

    My suggestion is stop free meals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Each of the chosen commentators has an interest in this, perhaps a bit bias in the beebs reporting?

    What counts as poverty in this country needs seriously reviewing. With the available benefits in this country, no child should be hungry - so no, all children should not receive free meals. Parents need to make appropriate choices as to how they spend money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    A gimmick to back up a dodgy speech at the party conference. Shows how out of touch he is. How many primary schools have got rid of their kitchens? Is he proposing to buy in hot meals at schools that no longer have school dinners? What about all the fussy parents that do not want their child to eat hot dinners because they aren't healthy enough? Will they have to eat it? Childish politicking


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