Tuesday 16 December 2008

The case for free school meals

The LibDems are finding this a good day to break bad news, as Michael White notes.

LibDem education spokesman David Laws tells The Guardian that

"For the most disadvantaged children, a school dinner can be the only hot meal they get. As times get tough, paying for school lunches is going to be a real struggle for more and more families"

He's right about that. So is Laws proposing the extension of free school meals? It would be a good step in the right direction if he was, but I am not so sure about that.

Many in the Labour party have been pushing this as a policy for the next election manifesto.

Cabinet Office Minister Tom Watson is a long-standing advocate: he was pushing the argument in Fabian Review back in 2004.

Sharon Hodgson MP has led a campaign backed by 70 backbench MPs, Unison, the Child Poverty Action Group and others. The push to extending free school meals was one of the policy outcomes of Labour's Warwick National Policy Forum on the next manifesto, and Ed Balls has set up pilot schemes to evaluate the policy.

It would be good if there was support across political parties for this.

But the initial (and successful) locally-funded pilot scheme in Hull was scrapped by the incoming LibDem administration. And the LibDems have been sceptical about SNP plans to extend free school meals in Scotland (though there are genuine issues about funding the move), while the LibDem-led Liverpool council has been reported to be considering such a policy.

So will David Laws' comments herald a LibDem push for free school meals? Or will they prove to be simply media-savvy opposition politics without any policy follow through?

1 comment:

Graham said...

The Labour Group in Islington are proposing introduction of free school meals for all children under 11. It's being opposed by the local Lib Dems, but has a good chance of passing since the Lib Dems recently lost their majority on the Council. More here: www.islington-labour.org.uk/free_school_meals