The Children’s Food Trust has urged the Conservatives to reconsider their manifesto pledge to scrap Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM).
“We are extremely disappointed at the Conservative Party’s proposal to scrap universal infant free school meals and we would urge them to reconsider what is a massive backward step for our children and families,” said Linda Cregan, chief executive of the Children’s Food Trust.
“The families that Theresa May describes as ‘just about managing’ will be hit hardest as their children will now not be guaranteed a nutritious meal every day.”
The manifesto was published yesterday ahead of the general election on 8th June. It says it will stop UIFSM and instead offer free breakfasts to all primary school pupils in an effort to cut spending by £650m and go towards a £4bn pot for English schools.
“All of the evidence supports the fact that school lunches are much healthier than packed lunches and we know from the Department for Education pilot that UIFSMs made it more likely that those entitled to benefits-based free school meals would take a meal,” said Cregan. “This policy went even further in ensuring that the children of infant age of those ‘just about managing’ parents were also guaranteed a meal.
“A huge amount of public investment was given to ensure the success of this policy but government has not evaluated it thoroughly – so it is hard to see how they can make a decision to scrap this without further protecting those families that are struggling most.”
The Trust welcomes the decision to provide free breakfasts but noted that take-up of breakfast clubs in schools is significantly lower than free school meals.
It now calls on the government to back the Free School Meals Bill with provision in school holidays to tackle holiday hunger, which will be presented to parliament after the election.
“The Free School Meal Bill should also include automatic free school meal registration for all schools, while giving local authorities the flexibility they need to implement programmes that are best suited to the needs of children in their area, and where both children’s health and the standards of food are monitored,” added Cregan.
“Children from the poorest backgrounds are more likely to have poor diets and be obese, conversely they’re also more likely to be undernourished and hungry, and they will suffer from health inequalities.”