All infants in England to get free school lunches

 

Nick Clegg: "A healthy hot meal gives children the ability to concentrate and do well in the classroom"

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All pupils at infant schools in England are to get free school lunches from next September, Lib Dem leader and Deputy PM Nick Clegg has announced.

The change - for children in reception, year one and year two - will save parents about £400 a year per child.

Targeting infants would ensure "every child gets the chance in life they deserve", teach healthy eating habits and boost attainment, Mr Clegg said.

But Labour said the Lib Dems could not be trusted to deliver.

Money is being provided for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to emulate the English scheme, but as education is a devolved issue, it is up to those running schools there to decide whether to spend the money on free lunches.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "We are committed to expanding this provision further and, once we see the financial implications of this announcement for Scotland, we will examine how best to deliver that expansion."

'Feeling the squeeze'

Free primary school meals for all pupils was one of the recommendations of a recent review of school food by two founders of the Leon restaurant chain for the Department for Education.

Analysis

The idea of free school meals for all pupils has been cooking away for many years.

There have been several pilot studies and researchers analysing the outcomes last year claimed that a free meal for all helped to narrow the divide in the achievement gap between rich and poor pupils.

Supporters argued that children with a regular healthy meal were more likely to be able to concentrate, get better academic results and were less likely to be obese. It's a public health approach, covering everyone for the long-term benefit.

A similar project saw free fruit being given to the infant years, with its advocates saying that the gains from this measure would be felt decades in the future.

The quality of school food has also become an issue, since Jamie Oliver exposed the dark underbelly of twizzler cuisine.

Now Nick Clegg's announcement will see free meals offered as the recipe for better results.

It concluded that packed lunches were nearly always less nutritious than a cooked meal, and that giving all children free lunches would raise academic standards.

The new policy does not ban packed lunches, but the aim is that having the hot, free option, will boost the numbers of pupils having school dinners.

Mr Clegg said: "My ambition is that every primary school pupil should be able to sit down to a hot, healthy lunch with their classmates every day.

"Millions of parents across the country are feeling the squeeze... I am determined to do all we can to help put money back in the pockets of these families.

"We will start with infant school pupils because teaching healthy habits young, and boosting attainment early, will bring the biggest benefits.

"Universal free school meals will help give every child the chance in life that they deserve, building a stronger economy and fairer society."

The move was welcomed by the National Union of Teachers, who called for it to be extended to all primary school pupils.

Children "do not stop being hungry at seven years-of-age", said general secretary Christine Blower.

Dr Hilary Emery from the National Children's Bureau said: "It's encouraging that politicians have recognised the clear link between a good diet, children's health and performance in education - which is of particular importance to low income families."

At the moment free school meals are available to all children whose parents are on benefits or earn less than £16,190 a year.

Start Quote

Giving people something for nothing is rarely unpopular, even when they are paying for it through their taxes.”

End Quote

Providing them for all infants will cost an estimated £600m and comes after the previously universal child benefit was cut for those earning more than £50,000 a year.

The Lib Dems also announced that poorer college students will be entitled to free school meals - on the same basis as those studying at school sixth forms.

"The news will no doubt be welcomed by disadvantaged students and their parents at a time when family budgets are being stretched to the limit," said Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges.

But Labour's Stephen Twigg said: "After three years of broken promises and empty words, people have come to judge the Lib Dems on what they do, not what they say.

"They talk about helping families but they will have taken up to £7bn a year of support away from children by 2015. They talk about helping with school meals after supporting the Tories in scrapping Labour's plans to extend free meals for school kids. You can't trust a word the Lib Dems say."

Marriage tax break

Asked if it was fair to provide free schools lunches for the children of all, irrespective of wealth, Mr Clegg said: "We believe that where we can find the money, even in these difficult times, we need to really invest that money in giving all children regardless of their family background the very best possible start in life."

He said the details of where the money to fund the lunches was coming from would be given in Chancellor George Osborne's autumn statement.

At a briefing ahead of the announcement the Lib Dems suggested they had got the funding for school lunches in return for allowing Conservative plans for a marriage tax break.

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Ministers are determined to make a series of gestures designed to alleviate the squeeze many families are feeling”

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The Department for Education ordered a review by restaurateurs Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent into the state of school meals in 2012 following strong criticism from TV chef Jamie Oliver, who earlier led a successful campaign to ban junk and processed food from school canteens.

Mr Oliver's campaign resulted in tight nutritional guidelines and healthy eating policies in many schools for those bringing packed lunches.

But in 2011 he claimed that standards were being eroded because academies and free schools were exempt from national nutritional guidelines.

Mr Dimbleby said he was "absolutely buzzing" following Mr Clegg's announcement.

He said: "Even those who have free school meals already benefit from this change of culture... Hopefully it will be the first step on the road to free school meals for everyone."

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 739.

    I guess this is a good idea. However are hot school meals really healthier than a sandwich? We currently send both kids in with packed lunches as we therefore know exactly what they are eating; based on our judgement of what is healthy. Food for thought.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 738.

    So, 2013, coalition govt in name, but let's not pretend it is anything other than tory in nature.

    We are cutting the benefits of the poorest, the ill, disabled, unemployed and those who rent and have no qualms about forking out for food for the offspring of the better off. Apparently families on 300k pa also get 2k nursery help would be insane if that was true


    How perverse and sick can it get?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 737.

    People who produce children get benefits, among them child benefit. What do they spend the money on, if not feeding their offspring? We already pay for the roofs over their heads - how many more freebies are they going to get to encourage them to go on producing children they can't house, feed or clothe?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 736.

    Oh for god's sake! if people would learn how to even spell in the first place maybe they could begin to teach their children to.
    Some of the comments on here are just pathetic in their lack of anything to do with intelligent discussion. With lols and suchlike, their kids are going to be eating chips anyway! God help the next generation when it comes to communication in the first place. Blah Blah!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 735.

    completely agree with Joe Bloogs comment

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 734.

    Hot free meals for all, regardless of ability to pay - but what will the meals be like? How nutritious? Some kids only eat chips- I can foresee countless rows with chav parents threatening 'dinner ladies' for daring to force fresh fruit and veg on their chav offspring - Come on Darren, we'll go down McDonalds, you don'ave ter eat that muck -oo der they fink they are? LOL i.e. lots of luck!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 733.

    I think the real issue is how the people will be wasting their vote at the next election? Will they vote for:

    Labour who almost bankrupted the country with overspending?
    Conservatives who imposed so any cuts, who ignore billions of pounds of tax avoidance by corporations but go after 1 guy who owes £1000
    Or LibDems who crumbled under the Tories during this coalition gov.

    None of the above I say

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 732.

    I suppose the poor will have to pay for this again - a furher cut in benefits?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 731.

    Oh, I see. It is free lunch not breakfast. The same applies, though. If you have the money to pay for it, why should it be free? Free should be only to those who would not otherwise be able to buy a lunch.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 730.

    In theory, this is a welcome (although minor) measure (if it occurs, which is not certain if it is said by Clegg) but its the exception that proves the rule of the LibDems having such little influence over govt policy.
    On the major policy decisions, the Tories have been a free ride, even though the UK public were not convinced enough by them at the last election to give them a majority.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 729.

    697.Algy
    Were to rich to receive children's allowance but can't afforded to buy them a lunch? unbalavbly perverse stop treating people as idiolects

    Algy, if you're too rich to receive children's allowance why not spend some of your money on night school to teach you spelling and punctuation?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 728.

    Help me to understand why this policy is being proposed. Don't most children eat breakfast before going to school? And why should everyone get a free meal? Shouldn't the meals be reserved for the needy who would otherwise not receive them?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 727.

    Just another vote catcher for 2015 election and as soon as they have been re elected it will be found too costly or the take up is not good enough and it will be gone once schools have spent out on all the extra equipment how are schools going to know they are getting value for money or is it just another exercise to hand cash over to contractors

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 726.

    As a single and childless professional, it seems that my hard-earned cash, is for feeding other people's children, and with a marriage tax break, I'm also paying for other people's relationships.
    Don't worry Mr Clegg, I'll also be voting for another party.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 725.

    There really is no end to how much of our money the LibDems will give away. Clegg should really concentrate on other more important things.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 724.

    705.Kat
    Well you should talk to your local adult social services and see if they can help they may tell which benefit you can claim to cover such costs but such help may be means tested like most things this government have done

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 723.

    It is silly. Kids that need it already get free school meals. The privilege should not be extended to those that don't need it, including those from well-off backgrounds, to be subsidized by the already hard-pressed and often less well-off taxpayer.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 722.

    #720: "double the length of the lunch break"

    Not sure why this is necessary ... when I was at primary school, almost all of the 350 pupils ate school dinners. At grammar school, almost all 1200. This was done within a one-hour lunch break - with children having at least half of that for playtime, clubs, study, etc. before or after eating.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 721.

    706. brownbear
    Nasty party politics, go away Clegg you are done

    Not a Liberal voter,Labour in fact. Clegg is a very brave man, swallowed his promises, because reality crept in. Didn't realise how we'd screwed up. It was okay until Blair told Brown to free the Cheque Book and Brown took his eye off the ball. Still that's history. History will judge him, better than his press today.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 720.

    Good move; now all we need is to reopen the kitchens and employ the staff to administer all this and to double the length of the lunch break - currently it takes the best part of an hour to serve half our school who take up school dinners . We dont have the capacity to implement this policy. A few years down the line the Jamie Oliver effect has already given way to cost cutting at county level.

 

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