THE BLOG

Strong And Stable Kids Need Feeding!

22/05/2017 10:53 | Updated 22 May 2017
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Theresa May and her government have decided to remove free school lunches from millions of primary children. This is a disgrace.

In the four years since it launched, The Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) policy has had a huge impact. Over 85% of children in their​ first three years of primary school now eat a healthy school lunch, compared to less than 45% in 2013. That's something to be really proud of, so why​ pull it so abruptly!?

They are saying that they will replace the free lunches with breakfasts. Don't get me wrong, breakfast is massively important too. Increasing​ the number of breakfast clubs in schools is a great idea and one I fully support. But crucially, it can't be breakfast versus lunch. Both are great but lunch is the only hot meal that children eat at school, so it is our biggest opportunity to get maximum nutrients on a plate, making an all-important difference to their nutrient intake. Children might come to school on an empty stomach, or having had a breakfast lacking in good nutrition - in these cases it is essential that they have a nutritious meal at lunchtime.

Not all children will be at school in time for a free breakfast, but they will be there at lunchtime. And eating a proper lunch has positive effects on children's diets and their academic performance. A recent trial showed that if you give free meals to all children, it's the poorer kids that improve the most. I can't understand why Theresa May and her party have chosen to ignore this, especially when it's the kids that need it most who are going to suffer. Only 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional guidelines for school food - without UIFSM, the number of kids eating packed lunches is certain to increase.

Alarmingly, two thirds of children living in poverty do not qualify for free school meals - without UIFSM, they'll miss out, every day. Taking this meal away from them will have a hugely negative impact.

Economically, UIFSM create a virtuous circle. When John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby conducted their research for the School Food Plan they found take up of school food had remained stubbornly low, at 43%. There are fixed costs associated with running a kitchen. They remain the same if you feed 10 kids or 100. You've still got to pay your cook and your utilities, buy your ingredients etc. So in order to get economies of scale, and make the food the best it can be, you need to drive up take up. Just after UIFSM launched, take up shot up to 85%, with over 1.3m more children eating a hot meal in the middle of the day. We can't let that go.

And this isn't just my opinion - ask any head teacher and this is what they'll tell you:

"We​ have found at Charlton Manor that behaviour has improved significantly since the introduction of healthier meals. We have also found that it impacts on attainment. Of our pupil premium cohort those that have a school lunch perform better than those with a packed lunch. For children mealtime experiences are crucial. Not only does it provide the right nutrition, but it allows the kids to socialise and build confidence." - Tim Baker - Charlton Manor

If you want to build a strong and stable future generation, you have to feed them!

So, what can we do about it? With social media, it has never been easier to get your voice heard. You can share your views online and change can really happen. I suggest that you send questions about this issue into debates on TV and radio and ask politicians exactly what they plan to do to make sure that our kids get a proper school lunch. With this policy change, how are they going to make sure childhood health is a priority? I will certainly be asking these questions!

22 May, 7pm, BBC One:​ Andrew Neil interview with Theresa May

23 May, 7pm, BBC One:​ Andrew Neil interview with Paul Nuttall

24 May, 7pm, BBC One:​ Andrew Neil interview with Tim Farron

25 May, 7pm, BBC One:​ Andrew Neil interview with Nicola Sturgeon

26 May, 7pm, BBC One:​ Andrew Neil interview with Jeremy Corbyn

29 May, 8.30pm, Sky News and Channel 4:​ May v Corbyn Live: The Battle for Number 10, a special joint 90-minute programme between Sky News and Channel 4. The show will open with a studio audience Q&A hosted by Sky's Political Editor, Faisal Islam, before Jeremy Paxman interviews the two party leaders one after the other

31 May, 7.30pm to 9pm, BBC One:​ The BBC Election Debate live, moderated by Mishal Husain, with "spokespeople" from all seven major political parties, but not necessarily leaders

2 June, time TBC, BBC One:​ Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn take part in a BBC Question Time special hosted by David Dimbleby, but will not appear side by side

4 June, time TBC, BBC One:​ Question Time Leader Special live, moderated by David Dimbleby, with Tim Farron and Nicola Sturgeon

4 June, 10.30pm to 11pm in England (11pm to 11.30pm in Wales),​ BBC​ One:​ Election Questions to UKIP leader Paul Nuttall

4 June, 11pm to 11.30pm in England (10.30pm to 11pm in Wales), BBC One:​ Election Questions to Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood

6 June, 10.40pm, BBC One (and live on BBC Radio 1 and the BBC News Channel at 9pm):​ Newsbeat Youth debate, hosted by Tina Daheley, featuring "leading politicians" from all seven major political parties

8 June: Polling​ day BBC General Election Results Night Special - Coverage of the election results led by David Dimbleby with Mishal Husain, Emily Maitlis and Jeremy Vine

8 June:​ ITV News at Ten's Tom Bradby will lead election night coverage

8 June:​ Sky News will broadcast Vote 2017 from 9pm, with Adam Boulton and Sophy Ridge.

9 June, 8.30pm to 9.30pm, BBC One:​ Final Question Time Election Special live from London

9 June 6am to 9.25am,​​ ITV:​ Good Morning Britain extended programme, hosted by Susanna Reid and Piers Morgan, with reporting from political editor Ranvir Singh

9 June 9.25am, ITV:​ ITV News Special on election results presented by Julie Etchingham

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