POLITICS

Labour Pledges Free Meals To All Primary School Children

Extension of Tory-Lib Dem policy paid for by tax on private school fees.

05/04/2017 22:49 BST | Updated 05/04/2017 23:34 BST
Christopher Furlong via Getty Images
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner and leader Jeremy Corbyn.

A Labour government would fund free school meals for all primary school children by charging VAT on private school fees, it will say tomorrow.

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner and leader Jeremy Corbyn will say on Thursday they want to ensure children get the “basic right of a healthy lunch at school”, and “remove the stigma” associated with free meals.

In turn, they argue the policy will improve children’s health and their performance at school. 

The Tory-Lib Dem Coalition government introduced free school meals for infant pupils but Labour now wants to extend the policy to seven to 11-year-olds if it was elected.

The Lib Dems promised the same move in the 2015 election manifesto.

Labour says the House of Commons library estimates that free school meals for all primary school children would cost between £700 million and £900 million a year. And it points to the Fabian Society suggestion that introducing VAT on private school fees could raise around £1.5bn a year.

In a launch of the policy ahead of May’s local elections, Rayner is expected to attack Tory cuts:

“The Government’s cuts to the school budget are making school meals worse and limiting the number of children that can be fed. This decision affects the educational attainment and health of pupils.

“While the Conservatives offer tax giveaways to their billionaire friends, they are cutting the schools budget and threatening the health and futures of all our children by denying children the basic right of a healthy lunch at school.

“By investing in our education system and providing free school meals for every primary school child, we will remove the stigma attached to free school meals, and improve health and attainment for all children.“

Corbyn is expected to say the policy will ensure that “no child is held back” because of their background. He will say:

“No child in the UK should go hungry at school. By charging VAT on private schools fees, Labour will make sure all primary school children, no matter what their background, get a healthy meal at school.

“The next Labour Government will provide all primary school children with a free school meal, invest in our schools, and make sure no child is held back because of their background.”

Labour points to research by the National Centre for Social Research and the Institute for Fiscal Studies that shows offering universal access to free school meals improves educational attainment through improvements in pupils’ productivity, enabling primary school pupils to advance by around two months on average.