Free lunches for all 5 to 7-year-olds may not be scrapped after all. That’s what David Cameron appeared to be hinting at when he said, “We’re very proud of what we’ve done with free school meals. It was an excellent reform carried out in the last parliament.”
But rumours have been rife lately that the Government could be considering dropping free school meals as part of their latest cost-cutting plans. The Universal Instant Free School Meals scheme’s only been running for a year but word is it’s for the chop in Chancellor George Osborne’s next spending review.
The Conservatives committed to the policy – that gives all children in English-state-school infant classes a free hot lunch – in their 2015 manifesto. And the scheme, championed by the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and introduced in September 2014, means parents of children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 can currently save an average of £400 per year per child.
But now Sky News reported that the free-lunch scheme is one of the cuts being considered in the upcoming November spending review – much to the horror of headteachers and healthy-food campaigners.
Jamie Oliver, who advises the government on child obesity, said ‘it would be a disaster’ if the free meals stopped. He says the scheme has been “a major step forward for children’s health and academic performance”, as most packed lunches “get nowhere near the nutritional standards set for school meals”.
And although headteachers originally complained that the free school meals scheme was “ridiculous” as they didn’t have the facilities to cope, now they want to keep the programme ‘after all the money and time invested’. The National Association of Head Teachers is looking for reassurance that funding won’t stop.
The Department of Education has yet to comment on the rumours but a Government spokesman has said: “We believe that every child, regardless of their background, 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.”
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