Every child in an English infant school will be eligible for a free lunch under a £600m plan revealed by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
Universal free school meals will help give every child the chance in life that they deserve, building a stronger economy and fairer society. Nick Clegg
The measure will come into effect at the start of the 2014 school year, in September, and is aimed at helping families who are “feeling the squeeze”.
“My ambition is that every primary school pupil should be able to sit down to a hot, healthy lunch with their classmates every day,” Mr Clegg said.
“Millions of parents across the country are feeling the squeeze. Over the course of a year families spend over £400 lunch money for each child.
“I am determined to do all we can to help put money back in the pockets of these families.
“We will start with infant school pupils because teaching healthy habits young, and boosting attainment early, will bring the biggest benefits.
“Universal free school meals will help give every child the chance in life that they deserve, building a stronger economy and fairer society.”
The announcement was agreed with the Liberal Democrats’ coalition partners under a deal which allowed the Conservatives to press ahead with their plans for tax breaks for married couples – something that Mr Clegg has labelled “Edwardian drivel”.
Liberal Democrats MPs are expected to abstain, as a part of this deal, when the tax break is voted on in the Commons.
We… will help all families in these tough times, not just the kind we like best. Nick Clegg
Mr Clegg is expected to use a speech tomorrow to highlight the difference between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, citing the free school meals as an example.
“For the Liberal Democrats, this is a first step: my ambition is to provide free school meals for all primary school children,” he is expected to say. “Another reason we want to get into government again next time round.
“The Conservatives, on the other hand, have made it clear that their priority is to help some families over others, with a tax break for married couples. A tax break for some, funded through the taxes of others.
“That tells you everything you need to know about their values.
“We, however, will help all families in these tough times, not just the kind we like best, by helping their young children get the best possible start in life – and that tells you everything about ours.”
The School Food Plan published in July recommended that the government should begin rolling out free school meals to all children in primary schools.
It found that in areas where the scheme had been piloted students were found to be two months ahead of their peers elsewhere.
Between 3 per cent and 5 per cent more children reached target levels in maths and English at Key Stage 1 – a bigger boost than the introduction of the compulsory literacy hour in 1998 which yielded a 3.6 per cent rise.