More than 3,300 children living in poverty across Norfolk could have their lunches taken away under the Conservatives’ plans to abolish universal free school lunches for infants, research by the Liberal Democrats has revealed. In total, almost 25,000 children in Norfolk are set to lose out under the plans.
Families losing out are expected to have to pay an extra £440 per child per year for their school lunches, as a result of this policy.
After it was revealed that the Conservatives have budgeted just 7p per meal for their 'free school breakfasts' pledge, the Liberal Democrats have also calculated that each child could expect to receive either half a boiled egg, one slice of bread with 12 baked beans or 37.5 cornflakes and 100ml of semi-skimmed milk.
Commenting on the research, Norman Lamb said:
“The Conservatives’ disgraceful plans to axe free school lunches will hit thousands of Norfolk’s poorest children. In North Norfolk alone, more than 260 children living in poverty will miss out on a free lunch, and struggling families will be left to foot the bill.
“We have to challenge this worrying policy, particularly when there is a wealth of evidence that free school meals can help to improve children’s performance at school.
"The Conservatives' promise of a free breakfast is cynical and clearly not designed to reach all children. They have set aside a meagre 7p per breakfast per child, the price of half a boiled egg or just one slice of bread with 12 baked beans.
“As a liberal, I strongly believe in investing in our schools and helping children to make the most of their talents. But as well as scrapping free lunches, spending on schools per pupil is set to be cut by around 7 percent by 2021/22 under the Conservatives’ proposals.
“The Liberal Democrats are committed to maintaining funding for schools and extending free school lunches to all primary school children.”
250,000 children in poverty to lose out on free school lunches
During the Coalition, the Liberal Democrats introduced universal infant free school meals for all pupils in reception, year one and year two. Prior to that, when free lunches were means-tested, the Children’s Society estimated that half of all school aged children living in poverty – 1.2 million – were not accessing free school meals. This was the result of a combination of an eligibility criteria that punished low-income, working families and the stigma associated with claiming them. Based on these Children Society estimates, the Liberal Democrats have calculated that 250,000 children living in poverty will no longer claim a free, hot lunch at school.
The 250,000 figure has been broken down by local authority is here and constituency here.
In total, more than 1.7 million children will lose out on a free lunch under the Conservatives’ plans.
Many working families will have to pay around £440 per child per year (£2.30 per meal) for their school lunches, a substantial expense. A single parent earning the minimum wage (£7.50 per hour) and working 16 hours per week (earning £6,240 per year) will therefore have to pay approximately 7% of their annual income for each child’s school lunches. A parent with 2 children aged 5-7 faces a bill of nearly £1,000.
Income amongst families of the 700,000 children living in poverty, but not eligible for free school meals, is less than £10 per head per day (after rent has been paid). Making these families pay for school lunches will take up a substantial portion of this income.
What a Conservative 7p breakfast could buy
The Conservatives claim that they will be able to provide free school breakfasts for all primary pupils at a cost of £60m per year. If the UK’s 4.62 million children in state-funded primary schools were fed a free breakfast for the 190 days of the school year, each breakfast would cost just 6.8p.
This means that a child for 7p would receive around:
- Just under half a boiled egg
- One slice of bread with a small amount of margarine
- One slice of bread with 12 baked beans
- 37.5 cornflakes and 100ml semi skimmed milk
Pricing based on:
- 1 medium free range egg currently 15p at Tesco (box of 12)
- Kellogg’s cornflakes costed at 15 flakes per penny (based on a 450g box)
- Bread costed at roughly 5p per slice (Currently selling at 13p per 100g, and one slice weighing roughly 38g)
- Heinz Baked Beans costed at 6 beans per penny (based on a standard 415g tin)
- 10g of margarine costed at 2p (based on a cost of £2.00 per kg)
- 4.4p for 100ml of semi skimmed milk (based on a cost of 44p per litre for 4 pints)
Aisling Kirwan, founder of the Grub Club, claims that a nutritious breakfast costs at least 25p per pupil on average, though this only provides porridge with milk. A more filling portion costs 85p. Even if only 20% of primary school children took up free breakfasts, the cost of provision would be £174 million, once costs such as the increase in staffing required to extend the school day is taken into account. A breakfast delivered to every primary school child would cost £800 million.