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Charities welcome plan for free school meals

20 September 2013

By a staff reporter


Tucking in: the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and his wife Miriam Gonzales Durantez take a break from the party conference in Glasgow to visit Lairdsland Primary School in Kirkintilloch, on Tuesday

Tucking in: the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and his wife Miriam Gonzales Durantez take a break from the party conference in Glasgow to visit ...

CHARITIES working with families on low incomes have welcomed the Government's announcement that all children will get free school lunches during their first three years of primary school.

Free school meals for all primary-aged pupils was one of the recommendations to the Department for Education made after a review of school food by John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby, founders of the Leon restaurant chain. They said that packed lunches were nearly always less nutritious than school dinners, and that a regular healthy lunch improved academic results.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said on Tuesday: "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 Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, described it as "unmitigated good news. . . Food bank reports indicate that most people come to food banks on their way home from work, which bangs another nail into the shameful and misleading political categorising of poor people into 'benefit scroungers'." The news, he said, highlighted "the im-

portance of food and the iniquity of poverty for a society that wants its children to grow into educated, creative, and altruistic citizens."

But he asked: "What about the other children in our schools? And what about tackling the causes of the child poverty that the Government, by announcing its policy today, has explicitly acknowledged?"

Despite this move, the Government is almost certain to miss its target of eradicating child poverty by 2020. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that, in seven years' time, one in three children will be living in poverty.

About 1.4 million children are expected to benefit from the move, which will be introduced next September.

Adrian Curtis is director of the Foodbank Network, run by the Christian charity the Trussell Trust. He said: "Trussell Trust food banks are seeing many families struggling to feed their children across the UK. Having provided three days' emergency food to over 126,000 children last year, we welcome the news that free school meals will be provided to children aged five to seven at state schools.

"This move comes at a time of great need, with recent research highlighting 28 per cent of teachers witnessing an increase in children arriving at school hungry. The guarantee of one hot, nutritious meal per day during term-time will make an enormous difference."

The chief executive of the Children's Society, Matthew Reed, said that the announcement "marks an historic step forward in the fight against child poverty", and that it was a result of campaigning on the issue by the Society's Fair and Square campaign (News, 27 April 2012).

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