Scrapping universal free school meals could jeopardise children's health and education, chefs and politicians warn

'School meals are there for a reason - in a lot of cases, it might be their only main meal of the day'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Reported plans to abandon the universal free school meals programme in England could jeopardise children’s health and education, chefs and politicians have warned.

Spearheaded by former Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, the Universal Infant Free School Meals policy provided all children in the first three years of primary school with free lunches, saving parents £400 a year.

More than £1bn has been spent on the scheme so far. But the Daily Mail reported that the policy is “under review” and could be axed. It costs £600m a year, and there are claims it is eating into the core education budget.

Scrapping the policy after just 12 months would put children’s health and education at risk, said chef Richard Corrigan, a leading London restaurateur.

“School meals are there for a reason. In a lot of cases, it might be their only main meal of the day,” said Mr Corrigan. “How can children expect to be educated … if they’re hungry?”

Fellow chef Raymond Blanc tweeted: “Depressing, because there is still so much malnutrition [and] obesity in young people. It was such an important policy to help the young.”

John Coe of the National Association for Primary Education said the Government could not be trusted to put “the money they might save back into education”. He said: “It’s a very good measure … largely for the health and the well-being and the ability to learn on the part of the children.”

The policy was a victory for Mr Clegg in coalition. The Lib Dems’ new leader, Tim Farron, said: “If this goes ahead, the Tories will show they are willing to take an axe to the education budget at the expense of children’s learning. The Lib Dems fought tooth and nail to get this through because we want every child to have the best possible start and be able to concentrate in class.”

The Department for Education did not confirm or deny the plans. A spokesperson said: “We believe that every child should have the same opportunities. That is at the heart of what we are doing with school food. No child should be hindered because they are not eating a nutritious meal at lunchtime.”