Free school meals 'exchanged' for married tax allowance

school children eating lunch Lib Dems say the free meals plan will be worth £437 per child for families

The Lib Dems have suggested they secured funding for free school meals in exchange for Conservative plans for a marriage tax break.

Nick Clegg has announced that every child in England between reception and year two will get free school lunches.

Asked if they got "anything back" for the Tories pushing through a tax allowance for married couples, a Lib Dem spokesman said: "This."

He added: "They want to spend the same amount on marriage tax."

The Lib Dem announcement will prompt speculation that Conservatives are likely to give more details of a tax break for married couples at their conference, and that the Tory plan would be worth an equivalent £600m.

In his speech on Wednesday, Lib Dem leader Mr Clegg will compare the two policies. He is due to say his priority is free school meals, while the Conservatives' is a tax break for married couples.

The free school meals policy will begin in September next year and will be worth about £437 per child to families.

The full financial detail of how it will be funded is not expected to be unveiled until the Autumn Statement.

Three pilot studies were run in Islington and Newham in London and in County Durham. The Liberal Democrats argue 3-5% more children reach key stage one attainment levels as a consequence - on average putting children two months ahead of where they would otherwise have been.

The party says the move would provide a bigger boost than the introduction of the literacy hour - brought in in 1998 to guarantee a daily amount of literacy teaching.

Four in 10 children living in poverty, the party says, do not get free school meals - either because they are not eligible or because their families do not claim them.

The Lib Dems will abstain on a budget resolution to introduce a transferable tax allowance for married couples, as set out in the coalition agreement.

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