Free school meals for all

Labour will only win the next election if we can show people that we’re on their side. And what better policy to do this than universal free school meals, which both help hard-pressed families and improve children’s health and learning.

The Labour party in Islington, Newham and County Durham have just introduced free school meals for all – the latter two partly funded by the Government. The results so far show that almost all children are now eating healthy school meals, instead of unhealthy (and expensive) packed lunches or, worse, just some snacks eaten on the way to school.

This not only helps in the battle against childhood obesity, teachers also report that well-fed children learn better and behave better too.

But don’t all children who can’t currently afford a school meal get one for free already? Scandalously, no. The income qualification for free meals is so low that many families under the official poverty line still do not qualify.

Asking families like this to pay for school meals, which cost around £300-a-year per child, is one of the most invidious elements of the poverty trap. Simply the cost of school meals is one of the main reasons it doesn’t pay for some parents to return to work. Breaking the poverty trap is vital to getting more people into work, quickening the pace of economic recovery.

Finally, many children who are eligible for free school meals currently do not claim them, because of the perceived stigma. Some schools even ask children claiming a free school meals to use a different queue. The pilots of universal free school meals show that almost all of the families who would be eligible for free school meals now do claim them as the system no longer singles them out.

Richard Watts is a Labour councillor in Islington

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16 Responses to “Free school meals for all”

  1. Richard Watts

    RT @leftfootfwd: Our latest manifesto idea: from @RichardWatts01

  2. Bearded Socialist

    brilliant idea, i’d have some of that right now

  3. Mark Ferguson

    RT @leftfootfwd: Our latest manifesto idea: from @RichardWatts01

  4. Mark Ferguson

    Support for free school meals for all is growing RT @leftfootfwd Our latest manifesto idea: from @RichardWatts01

  5. Jack Storry

    Hull City council also did this under Labour only for it to be scrapped by the Lib dems.

    I definetly think it should be rolled out nationally.

  6. Islington Labour

    Richard Watts makes the case for Free School Meals on Left Foot Forward blog

  7. John

    Tinkering with free school meals is like putting a band aid on missing limb.

    Before we look at evening the playing field for school meals, we need to look at evening the playing field for schools. At the moment if your school is doing well it is punished with a fraction of the budget of underachieving schools.

    Also this utopian ideal of inclusion for all has to end. Practically every school in the country has a number of students with extreme behavioural or mental issues, which disrupt the learning of almost every class they attend. If you want to improve the attainment of the bottom 25% of a school, we have to be able to remove the 0.1% from main stream education.
    If we want to change education then we need to CHANGE education. Not just ticker with minutia.

  8. Chris

    Agree with John. A good idea. If we are going to have comprehensive education then all students should be prepared to learn, allowing schools to remove the disruptive. The right to education should be qualified by this repsonsibility. If a school can demonstrate a record of non compliance then get rid.

  9. Daniel Sutton

    This should be a given policy for labour. It should also be a policy for all party because I can’t see how this doesn’t make sense no matter what your political view.

    We really need to look at equaility in schools from allot of different angles as well including cost for uniforms, trips, resources etc. No child should suffer at school due to there social background. I don’t mean suffer even just in terms of grades but in terms of the overall experience.

  10. AB

    Wow! Free school meals! Aren’t you being a bit daring? Maybe you should settle for a free can of Coke instead.
    Or maybe you should give up behaving like children afraid your parents are going to tell you off if you go too far and start addressing grown up issues.
    The division between private and state education is a national disgrace. It’s bad for the economy. It’s bad for bright kids whether in the private or state sector. It’s catastrophic for the country as a whole.
    Countries all over Western Europe offer ready made working models of how to structure an education system without Britain’s grotestesque distinction between state and private education. If a left-leaning website like yours can think of a more meaningful reform to education than free school meals, you should pack up and go home.

  11. David

    This really gets my goat. Yes free school meals are a good idea as a way of helping introduce children to healthy eating as a good chunk of the parents out there today seem incapable of proper cooking. I heard one mother (stay at home) claiming she could not survive without ready meals. Now am sorry that is just sad.
    Anyway back to the point. What annoys me is this whole idea of not claiming because of the stigma. I am sorry but if you need it you need it. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that. Get off you high horse and accept some help you idiot or is your ‘image’ worth more to you that your health.
    As for school trips my school drives me mad. They have regular charity drives, lots of pressure to give money to all worthy causes. But then they are asking money for every single trip they go on and last year they did not get a trip because of no funds. I am sorry but a school is for learning and should sort the education of the children (including trips) before it dabbles with trying to heal the world through charitable donations.

  12. Progressive manifesto ideas – have your say | Left Foot Forward

    […] Richard Watts suggests emulating the Labour party in Islington, Newham and County Durham and introducing free school meals for all. He says, “the results so far show that almost all children are now eating healthy school meals, instead of unhealthy (and expensive) packed lunches or, worse, just some snacks eaten on the way to school.” […]

  13. Kay Tie

    It’s so sad. Of course Labour isn’t on the side of ordinary people: it never has been. It exists to perpetuate itself, and thus it supports a particular power bloc, that of the leadership of large trade unions. Given that union leaders receive more than the £200,000 social responsibility levy (proposed elsewhere here) is it any wonder that there is a massive disconnect between what Labour says and what Labour does?

    Rather than propose a sequence of ridiculous schemes like this (or “eye-catching initiatives in the NewSpeak of New Labour) why not have some real reform: put people in charge of their own lives and give them the resources to do so. In other words, let parents take control of their own schools. The school can sort out the meals policy as a mere detail along with all the other issues it faces. Having a minister like Ed Balls (or a Labour councillor in Islington) tell pupils what to eat on a Wednesday is palpable nonsense. Having parents decide how the school is run – without Ed Balls or Richard Watts having the tiniest say – is truly empowering.

  14. The Friendly Lefty

    Kay Tie, that’s rubbish. Give parents the choice between some vague ‘say’ in how the school is run (what are teachers and school admin staff for?) or reduce the burden on their family budget and improve their children’s diets in one go, and they will pick the latter every time.

  15. Two children in every classroom go hungry | Left Foot Forward

    […] Free school meals for all? 27 oct […]

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