Election Money Matters: Should our children be entitled to free school meals?

Free School Meals: The current universal scheme and what might be scrapped after the June elections

Since 2014, all children attending a reception, year 1 or year 2 class, have been entitled to a free school meal. The previous coalition government put in place the universal free school meals scheme. It sought to help families in the low to middle income brackets provide healthy balanced lunches. This was in addition to the low income pupil premium provision that already existed for supporting those with the correct benefit entitlements.

It has meant that children have, at the very least, the option for one hot meal per day. With Teresa May’s recent call for the country to go to the polling stations once more. June 8th sees the possibility of this universal free school meals scheme being scrapped. The Conservative manifesto includes details on the idea of cutting the lunch provision to replace it with a free breakfast. This, in their words, would free up funds to be directed back into education.

Teresa May herself was keen to point out that for the families that are currently in the worst financial positions, they could still claim a free lunch ‘and’ free breakfast. This is great for those who are in dire need. But, for those who are low to mid incomes, it will be of little use.

As a teacher, I can see little need in the breakfast provision. Those children who already use breakfast clubs to make parental working possible would possibly see advantages. But for most, why would you send you child to school earlier to have breakfast with someone else? Someone other than their own family? Add in the additional staffing that may be needed and the kitchens that have been put in place around the country to cope with the current universal free school meals scheme and it all seems slightly… muddled.

Free School Meals: The figures.

The proposals from the Conservative Party, suggest that £650m could potentially be salvaged by removing the current scheme. Free breakfasts could potentially cost the government just 10% of what the current hot lunches do. Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s shadow secretary has been on record as stating that this “lunch tax” would cost parents around £450 per child, per year. He also suggested it would mean around 1.7 million families could feel the effects.

In terms of children eating healthy lunches at the moment, I can vouch for fact that the last few years have seen huge jumps in the numbers taking up the option. Nearly entire classes, compared to a handful a few years back. All getting a healthy, balanced lunch. Is the new scheme going to help keep our children healthy or is it poorly thought out?

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Free School Meals: The impact if it goes ahead and your views.

On the front-line, in school, the initial impact will be obvious. Some parents will try to keep up with paying for lunches, others will flock to the supermarkets to source packed lunches. Unfortunately, as most know, the supermarkets very rarely put healthy options on special offers. Instead they’ll likely be offering those enticing “buy one, get one free” offers on pre-packed long-life snacks, most of which won’t be balanced.

The impact I expect to see, is a split of those that resort to unbalanced easy lunch boxes, full of packets and waste. And then, those who provide a balanced lunch, but have to budget for this by making concessions elsewhere. In the vast majority of cases, I expect this will be by adults skipping meals or leaving themselves under-nourished. I say this because I’d skimp on what I had during the day to give Little Savvy more options.

The main impact must be those families though, who sit “just” above the breadline. Not entitled to benefit help, doing all they can, but having to make the decision on whether they keep on with £2.30+ per child, per day. That’s actually quite an ask, particularly in larger families.

Please get in touch, or leave your comments below on this issue. There’s no one right or wrong viewpoint, after all in theory there would be more money into education as a result. But what do you think is most important in the school environment? Health? or Education? Have your say in my mini poll below, feel free to add any comments you like.

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For ideas on how to save on your grocery shopping, try checking out my article on playing the supermarkets at their own game using the Asda Price Guarantee.

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