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18.09.13

Free school meals for infants in England

The announcement yesterday that all pupils at infant schools are to get free school meals has been widely welcomed.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg, who is officially announcing the policy at the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow today, admitted that the policy was a quid pro quo with their Conservative coalition partners for the married tax allowance.

The new policy applies to children in reception and years one and two and is estimated to save parents about £400 a year.

The policy is universal and not means-tested, in contrast to the general direction of travel of Coalition policy – but its backers suggested it would help end any stigma associated with free school meals and bring children together, while also encouraging healthy eating and, potentially, improved attainment.

The £600m roll-out follows successful pilots in a number of local authority areas and a report earlier this year by the founders of the Leon restaurant chain for the Department for Education, which recommended healthy cooked meals over packed lunches.

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 NUT said it should be extended to all primary school pupils while Labour, although it did not oppose the policy, suggested the Lib Dems could not be trusted to deliver it.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance, which campaigns against state spending, opposed the measure and said it was a gimmicky giveaway – a message echoed by some newspapers today.

But restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, one of the authors of the report that the new policy is based on, 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."

Currently meals are only free to children whose parents earn under £16,190 or who are on benefits.

The scheme only applies to England, but money is also being given to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for policymakers there to decide whether to copy the English policy or spend the money in other ways.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

(Image: Liberal Democrats)

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