UK Prime Minister David Cameron says the government is committed to free student meals in England, dismissing own-party speculations that these might be stopped. The student meals were introduced last year and are provided to students in grades 1 to 3 in England.
When Chancellor George Osborne of Cameron’s own Conservative party talked of cuts between 25% and 40% from unprotected budgets, speculation rose that meals could be of the first things to be scrapped. The Prime Minister’s spokesman dismissed these rumors, saying:
“[I]t was in the manifesto, the manifesto words are very clear – we’re proud of what we’ve done with free school meals”.
The Chancellor discussed the meal project back in July during his spending review. His cut mentions are at odds with the declarations of the prime minister. Cameron told Sky News about his pride for introducing the service a year ago:
‘We’re very proud of what we’ve done on free school meals, there was some excellent reform carried out in the last Parliament. We’re going to have a spending review where obviously we have to make sure we deliver on our spending promises, but we’re very proud of what we’ve done with free school meals.’
A few weeks back, the Daily Mail revealed that the £600 million service could be stopped. Nicky Morgan’s plan was to stop free meals to reduce spending. Cameron’s spokesperson commented:
“We believe that every child, regardless of their background, should have the same opportunities. That is at the heart of what we are doing with school food.
No child should be hindered because they are not eating a nutritious meal at lunchtime. We have provided significant financial support to schools to help them deliver universal infant free school meals.
The Department for Education says Cameron’s comments do not necessarily put the issue off the table. A DfE official said:
‘Frankly we are not going to find £600 million from anywhere else.’
About 40 health professionals are calling for school meal protection from budget cuts, warning that scrapping the meals could hurt students’ health. Doctors, dentists and health officials who signed the letter describe the ending of free meals as “short-term thinking” and applauded the government for sticking to its initial pledge. The letter reads that if meals are eliminated, it could trigger the obesity epidemic in the country:
“With one in three children currently leaving primary school overweight or obese, ensuring a healthy, nutritionally balanced school lunch has never been so important.”
Among the figures signing the letter include professor Lord Darzi of Denham, director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation and professor Sheila Baroness Hollins, chair of the British Medical Association’s science board. British TV chef Jamie Oliver also spoke in favor of the free meals, warning that cutting them would be a disaster.