UK Politics

Tories drop plan to end universal free lunches for infants

Lunchtime Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Since September 2014 all infant pupils have been offered a free school meal

Plans to axe free lunches for infant school children from better off families in England have been scrapped.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said the government would "retain the existing provision", having listened "very carefully" to the views of parents.

The Tory manifesto proposed restricting free lunches to infants from poorer homes - with free breakfasts for all primary school pupils funded instead.

It was intended to save £650m a year - but was left out of the Queen's Speech.

And Mr Gibb told MPs: "We have listened very carefully to the views of the sector on the proposal to remove infant free school meals and we have decided that it is right to retain the existing provision."

The Tories have abandoned a host of proposals since failing to win a majority, including plans to means-test winter fuel payments, end the triple lock guarantee on pension increases and to hold a vote on foxhunting.

Free school lunches for all infant children were introduced by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government in 2014.

Plans to limit their availability again to low-income families had proved controversial, with some parents complaining the offer of a free breakfast was not directly comparable and was merely a cost-saving measure.

Many schools were also unhappy about the move, arguing they had gone to great expense to adapt their facilities to provide hot lunches.

During the campaign, the Conservatives argued that free breakfasts would have equal, if not greater, nutritional benefit for pupils and could be delivered at the fraction of the cost of lunches.

But challenged on the policy by shadow education secretary Angela Rayner in the Commons, Mr Gibb confirmed the government had changed its mind.

"Universal infant free school meals ensure children receive a nutritious meal during the day," he said. "It saves hardworking families hundreds of pounds a year and it boosts educational achievement, especially among children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds."

Labour is pressing the government to clarify whether plans for free breakfasts have now been scrapped.

During education questions, Mr Gibb also promised that no school would have its budget cut as a result of the national funding formula, which aims to make funding fair for schools.

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