In my previous role as Council Leader, I introduced free school meals in all our primary schools as I know how important it is that every child gets at least one hot, nutritious meal a day.
I am extremely concerned at reports that the Government plans to cut their Infant Free School Meals Scheme as this would have a very serious impact on the many families and children that benefit from it. Free school lunches save families around £400 per child per year and I fear that, at a time when the Government are also making deeply regressive cuts to tax credits, ending this scheme could lead to millions of children going hungry.
I know that a number of charities and healthy eating campaigners have also raised concern about this issue. Indeed, the Children’s Society have emphasised that free school meals are vital to helping many families and that this would particularly hit children living in poverty.
At the last General Election I stood on a manifesto that committed to protect the entire education budget including early year’s education and to continue to support free school meals for infants in primary schools.
As you know, however, the Government have not protected early years spending and have stated that other Government departments are likely to face 25%-40% cuts over the next five years. I am very concerned about the impact this could have on our public services and the future of schemes such as UIFSM.
I hope, therefore, that the Government will listen to the strong support there is for maintaining free school meals for infants and drop any proposals that may be considered in this area. I also hope that the Government will step back from the potential 40% cuts they are planning across the public sector. I will continue to make the case for the importance of this scheme in Parliament.