Leading article: Jamie needs Kelly's backing

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Jamie Oliver's television series on the dire state of school food has started a revolution that we support.

Jamie Oliver's television series on the dire state of school food has started a revolution that we support. The celebrity chef has done more for the public health of our children than a grim report from the nation's doctors or a government PR campaign. Parents who watched his programmes were horrified to learn what goes into Turkey Twizzlers, and that only 37p is spent on their child's school lunch. More than 150,000 people have signed his petition demanding more nutritious meals and a ban on junk food in canteens. We would urge anyone who has not done so, to log on to www.feedmebetter.com and sign up, too.

This week, the Government tried to play catch-up by launching a mini-manifesto on children, including plans for healthier school meals. Even Tony Blair got involved. But his attempt to defuse parents' anger still stops far short of Jamie Oliver's key demand - for the Government to increase spending on school food to 50p - or, as Jamie says, half a quid per kid. The Prime Minister will set out plans for a School Meals Trust - announced by Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Education, a month ago - in an effort to respond to the outpouring of public support for Jamie Oliver's message. This organisation will help to spread best practice. But it is really not enough. No more cash has been promised. The Government needs to take decisive action against junk food and to invest more money in school dinners. Only then can schools afford to buy high-quality and nutritious ingredients.

Jamie Oliver's experiment in Greenwich schools showed that children who were banned from eating junk food quickly became better behaved, found it easier to concentrate, and suffered fewer health problems such as asthma attacks. That is powerful evidence for central government to take action now. It is not good enough for Ruth Kelly to say that spending on school food is a matter for local education authorities and head teachers. The demand for funding to be increased to provide 50p for each child's lunch every day is not too much to ask. We are bringing up a generation of youngsters who are more obese than previously and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Money spent on improving school meals will be an investment in the UK's future. Ruth Kelly needs to draw up plans for retraining dinner ladies and re-equipping kitchens fast.