Ed Balls fights on free school meals

School meals An expansion of free school meals has been cancelled as too expensive

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Ed Balls has launched a "save free school meals" campaign, stepping up his protest against cuts to an expansion in free meals.

The shadow education secretary wants to reverse the cancellation of plans to extend free meals to a further 500,000 pupils.

He said the school meals would improve "health, concentration and behaviour".

Education Secretary Michael Gove has dubbed the previous government's plan for extra meals an "unfunded promise".

Mr Balls, a candidate for the Labour leadership, has launched a campaign with the GMB union against the coalition government's ditching of plans to extend free school meals.

Tackling obesity

The Labour government, in which Mr Balls had been schools secretary, had wanted to widen pilot schemes to test the benefits of giving all primary pupils a free hot meal.

Three such schemes are currently running and will be continued in Newham in East London, Wolverhampton and Durham.

Free meals for all pupils had also been planned for Bradford, Islington in London, Nottingham, Cumbria and Medway in Kent.

But the coalition government has stopped these extensions, saying that the cost had not been fully funded by the previous government.

The cabinet has been meeting in Bradford on Tuesday - one of the authorities that will now miss out on the year-long free school meals project, which would have cost the education department £8.34m.

Ralph Berry, Bradford council's executive member for children's services, attacked the cancellation as an "ill-advised cut".

"The pilot was to have wide-reaching benefits, including healthy eating, reducing obesity and improving health and well-being," he said.

Mr Balls said that the cabinet's choice of Bradford for such a meeting was an "own goal".

"I hope they'll take the opportunity to explain to parents and teachers across Bradford why they're cutting funding for school meals which would have seen every child in the city get a free hot healthy lunch," says Mr Balls.

Mr Gove has rejected suggestions that money intended for free meals was going to be spent on the government's free school plan - and said that the proposed expansion of free meals had been a "cynical pre-election manoeuvre".

He accused the Labour government of making an "underfunded promise" over free school meals, "which raised the hopes of the poor without the cash being there to sustain it".

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