Celebrity chef and campaigner Jamie Oliver has condemned Tory proposals to scrap universal free school meals, warning Theresa May that she would be committing “political suicide” by pushing the controversial policy through Parliament.
Proposals in the Conservative Party manifesto to scrap free school lunches for four to seven year old’s and replace them with a free breakfast proved to be highly unpopular during the general election campaign.
Jamie Oliver added: “I’ll be truly amazed if Theresa goes through with abolishing infant free school meals…
“Britain does not want this, parents do not want this, even Conservative ministers do not want this.
“Does Theresa really have the gall to ask our Queen to rob our youngest, most vulnerable kids of a proper nutritious meal?”
It remains unclear as to whether the proposal will make it into the Queen’s Speech tomorrow (Wednesday) and it has been suggested that the DUP, who are expected to enter into a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the Tories to prop up Theresa May’s minority government following the party’s disastrous election campaign, are not supportive of the proposal.
Axing universal free school meals would save the Treasury around £650 million a year, but campaigners say it will “damage children’s health, well-being, attainment and academic results”.
A petition from headteachers on the website change.org calling on the PM to drop the changes has been signed by tens of thousands of angry people.
The author of the petition, Tim Baker, a primary school headteacher, writes: “As a headteacher I know first-hand how important free school lunches are and the damage taking them away will do – for example unlike school lunches, breakfasts have no minimum fruit and vegetable portions.
“This policy change will damage children’s health, well-being, attainment and academic results.”
“Scrapping free school lunch for infants is simply bad decision making”, says Mr Baker.
He continues: “This country is facing an obesity epidemic; one in three children leave primary school overweight or obese.
“Giving children a proper, nutritious cooked meal in the middle of the day has also been shown to improve a child’s overall diet, not just at school. School meals are a vital weapon in the fight to improve our nation’s health. To undo this work would be irresponsible.
“We know that the poorest children benefit most from free school lunches. Alarmingly, without universal access to free school lunches, two thirds of children who live in poverty would still not qualify for free school meals – without these, they’ll miss out, every day.
“Currently, all disadvantaged infant kids have access to a hot meal everyday at school and, for some, this may be the only proper meal they eat all day.
“Meanwhile, 99% of packed lunches do not meet the nutritional guidelines set for school food – without a free lunch, the number of kids eating packed lunches is certain to increase.”
Mr Baker concludes: “Increasing the number of breakfast clubs in schools is a great idea. But it can’t be breakfast versus lunch. Not all kids will be at school in time for a free breakfast, but they will all be there for lunch.”
Update: Since this article was published it has been reported that the Conservatives have ditched plans to axe universal free school meals. More information can be found here.