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Tim Farron says Tories 'stealing lunch money' over school meals threat

October 3, 2015 12:45 PM
By Patrick Wintour in The Guardian

Free School Meals Graphic

Liberal Democrat leader responds to possibility its policy of free meals in primary schools could be axed in autumn spending review

The Department for Education has confirmed that the autumn spending review could see the removal of free school meals for infants, one of the Liberal Democrats' final achievements in coalition, Tim Farron said on Friday.

The Lib Dem leader was responding to an email sent by the government to the tens of thousands of petitioners urging the government to retain free school meals.

In a formal response to the petition, the Department for Education replied: "No decisions have yet been taken. The government is currently conducting a spending review across all its programmes. Therefore, every policy across Whitehall is being reviewed as part of this process and no decisions have yet been taken.

"We want to give every child, regardless of their background, the very best start in life. This is at the heart of what we are doing with school food. We have made real progress and the new school food standards mean that pupils of all ages, including infants, are eating good, nutritious food which we know helps children to concentrate in the classroom and supports healthy lifestyles."

Farron responded: "The Conservatives have tried to spin that infant free school meals are safe but even the Department for Education are saying that nothing is off the table for the axe.

"Not satisfied with snatching milk in the 1970s, they now seem set to steal the lunches of children. The Liberal Democrats fought tooth and nail to deliver this in coalition because we want every child to have the best possible start in life and be able to concentrate in class. All the evidence shows that a healthy meal helps with that. Instead of further investing in our children, the Tories are turning up at the school gate and stealing their lunch money."

The flagship Lib Dem policy is supposed to save families more than £400 a year per child and provide a healthy lunch to every five-, six- and seven-year-old.

Following leaks that the free school meals were under threat in the spending review, David Cameron told Sky News: "We're very proud of what we've done with free school meals. It was an excellent reform carried out in the last parliament."

He added: "We are now going to have a spending review where obviously we have to make sure that we are delivering on our spending promises, but we are very proud of what we've done with free school meals."