Angela Rayner has hit out at the Government for failing to rule out scrapping free school meals for infant pupils.
Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary said: “It is deeply alarming that Ministers failed to rule out scrapping universal free school meals for infants in the upcoming Budget, repeatedly dodging our questions in the Commons.
“With children turning up to school too hungry to learn and millions in food poverty, the government must urgently assure parents and teachers that universal infant free school meals are safe and, quite frankly, the Education Secretary should be prepared to resign rather than implement such a brutal cut.”
At present, all school children in Reception and Years 1 and 2 receive a free lunch but last week it was revealed that the Department of Education were considering scrapping this to generate savings ahead of the Budget. Around 1.4 million youngsters currently get a free meal.
During Education questions in the House of Commons yesterday, Angela said it was “shocking to see reports that the chancellor is considering scrapping free school meals” and called on education secretary Gavin Williamson to save the scheme.
She added: “I know the Secretary of State stated that he had made representations to the Chancellor, but will he state categorically that he’d resign rather than implement such budget cuts? And while he’s at it, shouldn’t he also adopt our proposals for free school breakfasts – an idea he once supported?”
Children’s Minister Vicky Ford, who responded on Mr Williamson’s behalf, said: “The Honourable Lady is absolutely right to raise the issue of a healthy breakfast. We know that a healthy breakfast helps children concentrate, learn, and reach their potential in life. Which is why we are already investing up to £35 million in our breakfast clubs programmes. 1,800 schools in more disadvantaged schools have already signed up, the programme can be extended to nearly two and a half thousands schools, and Family Action have estimated that around 280,000 children are already receiving a free breakfast through this programme every day.”
Since it was introduced in 2014 by the Coalition Government, the universal infant free school meals policy has been threatened on several occasions. In their 2017 election manifesto, the Conservatives pledged to ditch it but U-turned following a huge backlash and the loss of their majority.