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Britain Might Be About to Scrap Free School Meals for Under-Sevens

According to a Sky News report, the Conservative government could be harbouring plans to axe a scheme that sees free hot lunches provided for all infant school pupils.
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
September 22, 2015, 10:59am
Photo via Flickr user Coventry City Council

Incase you spent yesterday under a rock, in a coma with no WiFi and missed #piggate in all its hysterical glory, here's the deal: allegations have been made that as a student, British Prime Minister David Cameron "put a private part of his anatomy in a dead pig's mouth" during an university initiation ceremony. Basically, it's Twitter Christmas.

But amongst the ham jokes, pig Photoshop jobs, and inevitable mashup songs, some political commentators (and bacon pun-fatigued Twitter users) pointed out that Cameron's pig-fucking accusations do kind of draw attention away from a more pressing matter. Namely, the fact that his Conservative government could be harbouring plans to scrap free school meals for children.

READ MORE: The Fight Over School Lunch Mandates Is Going Nowhere

On Sunday, Sky News reported that the government is considering axing a scheme that sees free hot lunches provided for all pupils in Year One and Year Two.

The Universal Free School Meals (UFSM) scheme was introduced in 2014 by former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in the last coalition government, and saves parents of under-sevens around £400 per child, per year.

Although the Conservatives' 2015 manifesto committed to the policy, which is thought to cost the government between £600 million and £800 million a year, Sky News claims that it could be axed in the November spending review.

The Department for Education has most of its government funding protected but around £14 billion spent on early years education, teacher training, colleges, and UFSM is not protected. Education secretary Nicky Morgan will have to offer two proposals that will cut spending on these unprotected areas by 25 percent and 40 percent.

Following the rumoured axing of UFSM, the National Association of Head Teachers has called on the government for reassurance that funding for the scheme won't be scrapped. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who advises the government on child obesity, has also voiced concern, telling Sky News that UFSM was "a major step forward for children's health and academic performance," as most packed lunches "get nowhere near the nutritional standards set for school meals."

Meanwhile youth charities have questioned the impact the rumoured axing could have on lower income families, with The Children's Society chief executive Matthew Reed warning that not having universal access to free lunches would be "a massive blow to children living in poverty."

While the decision to axe UFSM could become Cameron's "Thatcher the milk snatcher" moment, the scheme was not welcomed by all when it was introduced last year. Many head teachers argued that the pressure to update school kitchen facilities to accommodate the meals diverted resources from existing budgets and some parents branded the free meals as an unnecessary expense.

READ MORE: France's Right Wing Wants to Deny Pork-Free School Meals to Muslims and Jews

Jonathan Simons from the Policy Exchange think tank also told Sky News: "The principle of have a hot school lunch is a good one but the question really is one of value for money. Is it the best use of £800 million a year to pay for free school meals for all children, regardless of their parental wealth?"

While the Department for Education has yet to rule out scrapping UFSM and a government spokesman told Sky News: "We believe that every child, regardless of their background, should have the same opportunities," it seems Cameron may need to add "hot lunch-snatching" to that list of allegations to defend.