Farron: the Tories are turning up at the school gate and stealing children’s lunch money

School meals by COventry City Council Flickr CCLThe Mail reports today:

Ministers are poised to scrap Nick Clegg’s controversial free school meals programme, it emerged last night.

The flagship Lib Dem policy was supposed to ensure all primary school children were given free lunches in their first three years of education.

Tim Farron has responded:

If this goes ahead, the Tories will show they are willing to take an axe to the education budget at the expense of children’s learning.

By scrapping this policy they would take food off the plates of hundreds of thousands of school kids who now benefit from a free hot healthy meal at lunchtime.

The Liberal Democrats fought tooth and nail to get this through in Coalition because we want every child to have the best possible start in life and be able to concentrate in class.

We are really proud of the efforts schools have made to ensure children get the healthy meals they need. In many cases this has seen investment in new facilities and new staff.

The Tories are now going to completely undermine all this progress and, as a result, demoralise school children, their parents and their teachers.

Instead of further investing in our children, the Tories are turning up at the school gate and stealing their lunch money.

School meals photo by Coventry City Council Flickr CCL.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Eddie Sammon 5th Sep '15 - 5:06pm

    I support scrapping the policy. Just because something helps doesn’t mean it is the best use of money. It was a nightmare policy from day one.

    I also think there is a better way to help struggling kids than the pupil premium, but I think that is a bigger battle.

  • I think it is a serious case of hyperbole to call giving young children free school meals a “nightmare policy”. You must have very gentle nightmares Eddie!

  • Mildly populist policy, perhaps, giving something to parents and children rather than only ever giving things to the elderly?

    Is the triple lock on pensions or the winter heating allowance a “nightmare policy” ???

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Sep '15 - 6:07pm

    Hi Simon, no experience, just what I think sounds logical and will go down well with the public. The troubles with implementing the free school meals policy are well documented with the lack of appropriate sized kitchens. I also think it sounds a bit weak to emphasise that the meals will be hot and when it comes to healthy: Jamie Oliver has just emphasised that the battle for healthy school meals has been lost and why do middle class and above kids need financial support?

    When it comes to the pupil premium I think it sets up perverse incentives where the better your job the less gets spent on your child’s education. I think kids should be treated broadly equally by the state, unless they are shown to be struggling with grades, where I support intervention.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Sep '15 - 6:11pm

    Hi Andrew, yes the triple lock is also a “nightmare policy”. Lol. Less sure about winter fuel allowance, but some policies are difficult to implement or seem unsustainable and in tight budget times the free school meals plan has had to go. Perhaps a variation of it could be introduced, more targeted at the poor. But then it begs the question: why does it only matter if kids are fed well during the school week? Maybe a more comprehensive child hungry policy is required.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Sep '15 - 6:43pm

    Well Simon, perhaps you can say what I have said that is “ill-informed”. It is my opinion. If someone sees it as a tax on the middle class then it is not “ill-informed” it is their opinion. I haven’t given any facts.


  • Clare Brown 5th Sep '15 - 7:18pm

    I am no expert but I thought this was an evidence based policy and that the evidence shows that one of the best ways of raising attainment is to ensure that all children have a decent lunch. There are plenty of parents on good incomes who do not send their children to school with sensible healthy lunches. Also giving lunch to all kids avoids the potential for stigma in the old free school meals system. This broad brush free meals approach should in theory raise attainment across the whole class. It should be seen primarily as an educational intervention not a social or nutritional one.
    Regarding the pupil premium, from what I can gather, this is usually spent on whole school initiatives which allow schools to improve the resources available for all pupils in the school, not just the kids who attract the funding. So schools with higher levels of social deprivation get extra cash to help them meet the diverse needs of the whole cohort.

  • Exactly right, Clare.

  • Funding has little effect on attainment.

  • Eddie Sammon – “I think kids should be treated broadly equally by the state” and that is exactly what the free schools policy did! So what is the problem?

    As was argued at the time this policy was introduced, it didn’t matter which social class a kid came from, they all need to eat at lunch time and the quality of (packed) lunch provided (by the parent) was also independent of parental income. By giving all pupils a free lunch there was no discrimination at the school level school between those who’s parents were ‘poor’ and those parents were ‘rich’, hence it was a good social equalising policy at point of delivery.

    If this policy is axed, savings will only be made out of the opex costs, the capital costs of installing kitchens etc. will have to be written off. About the only beneficiaries will be those organisations who get in an help a school dispose of all that new kitchen equipment. However, expect there to be fall out as various small businesses cease trading because there is no longer sufficient demand for their services…

    Inspite of my comments elsewhere on LDV, I think on this Tim is both saying the right thing and is doing so ahead of any government announcement!

  • I never thought this was a good policy to begin with to be fair.

    If the evidence was there that children perform and learn better after having a healthy nutritious meal, then the money would have been better sent on a breakfast club. That way the kids would have benefited from the very start of the day for the fist four lessons, rather than the last 2 lessons of the day after lunch.
    I am sure there are plenty of children from poorer backgrounds who go to school who have not had a decent breakfast and these kids would have been better targeted rather than directing funds at families who can do with out it.
    Secondly, I am surprised that you are surprised that the Tories have started to reverse Liberal Democrat policies now they are no longer in Government, Surely it was obvious that would happen.
    That also beggars the question, was it really worth getting into bed with the devil after all, when in one parliament session they can undo all that you had done, whilst having the added bonus of stealing most of your constituencies from under your feet.

    Most people foresaw this is what would happen

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Sep '15 - 8:17pm

    Simon, the thing is we already accept inequality in education, otherwise we would ban private schools and private tutors, so unless we are going to go down that route I think the pupil premium is a bit incoherent.

    Maybe a bit of a pupil premium is fine, but £2.5 billion is a lot and I think condemning parents to poverty, but giving kids a brilliant education, is unbalanced. If kids have a tough home life then I don’t think just throwing lots of money at the schools is going to sort it out.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Sep '15 - 8:19pm

    Roland good point that the capital cost has already been outlayed, I did think that in the back of my mind.

    I’m not saying any more on the pupil premium on this thread because it is off topic. It is just not a policy I am in love with and thought I’d mention it in terms of schools budgets.

  • The Professor 5th Sep '15 - 8:39pm

    Free school meals (not a pledge and not in the LD 2010 manifesto).
    Tim Farron said “The Liberal Democrats fought tooth and nail to get this through in Coalition……”

    Scrapping tuition fees at University (a pledge and was in the LD 2010 manifesto – The Liberal Democrats reneged on their pledge and then the party in 2013 agreed by changing LD party policy.

    The Lib Dems deserved the walloping they got on May 7th 2015.

    An ex-Lib Dem.

  • It was an absurd gimmick that removes responsibility from parents & deserves to be dumped.

  • This policy, (along with free childcare for different reasons) , was designed to save the busy Clegg and Cameron households from having to bother with producing a suitably healthy packed lunch for their primary school offspring? 😉

  • As a long serving school governor the pupil premium has been one key element in our school in a “deprived” area being an outstanding school. There are of course many others, frankly free school meals would not be an issue for which I would go to the wall. The pupil premium would be worth the fight. Around 50% of our kids got free school meals via other routes.

  • Mad macs “As a long serving school governor the pupil premium has been one key element in our school in a “deprived” area being an outstanding school. There are of course many others, frankly free school meals would not be an issue for which I would go to the wall. The pupil premium would be worth the fight. Around 50% of our kids got free school meals via other routes.”

    Yes I agree with both your points – on pupil premium and free school meals. I am not Nick Clegg’s greatest fan but Pupil Premium helped our daughter! Not sure she would fall into the intended demographic but very pleased we were that it did.

  • Paul Kennedy 5th Sep '15 - 10:35pm

    The Professor – the Lib Dems as a party did not renege on our 2010 manifesto commitment to phase out tuition fees.

    We just didn’t win the election – unlike LABOUR who twice won landslide majorities on the back of promises not to introduce then increase tuition fees then did exactly the opposite.

    21 Lib Dem MPs including our leader Tim Farron also kept their individuals pledges by voting against increasing tuition fees in 2010. So I think Tim has won the right to say what we did and did not fight for in coalition.

    As for the ‘walloping’ you seem to celebrate, that was mainly Lib Dems (many of whom had kept their pledges on tuition fees) losing seats to Tories. The Tories, whose 2005 manifesto said they would abolish tuition fees but clearly had no intention of doing so, and in 2015 said nothing about abolishing free school meals but clearly planned to do so.

  • Not worth fighting this – although it has a benefit in my area it’s more social than anything else. The value of children sitting down to eat together and removing all stigmatism of free school lunches isn’t easy to measure but we’ve seen a change in behaviour at lunchtimes and in the afternoon.

    The unintended consequence was that some parents no longer had an incentive to claim free school meals (as they got it anyway.) this meant the school’s eligibility for pupil premium went down, so we had the crazy situation of schools chasing parents to apply for free school meals they didn’t need, for extra school funding. An odd situation and no easy way out while the policy remains in place.

    While Clare’s right that it has been shown to have a positive effect, I’m in the group unwilling to go to the wall on this.

  • Peter Watson 5th Sep '15 - 11:40pm

    A “flagship Lib Dem policy”?
    I seem to remember that before Nick Clegg announced universal Free School Meals as a Lib Dem idea (strange enough in itself since I think it was under Ed Balls in a Labour government that it was trialled), Lib Dems had opposed it.
    Also, from what I recall of the debates on this site, it was introduced in a limited form, only funded for two years, and presented as a consolation prize for allowing the Tories a tax-break for married couples and as a £400 saving (bribe?) for parents (voters) who were previously paying for school meals.
    I believe that the evidence from the trials showed improvements with the introduction of universal free school meals, but it was unclear to what extent this was boosted by other activities run alongside (e.g. promoting healthy eating), and that there were better returns from other ways of spending the money on education. There is also the risk that under-declaration of entitlement to free school meals undermines the Pupil Premium by reducing the amount claimed by those schools who most need it.
    Overall, if (a big if) the money saved by no longer funding universal free school meals for infants can be invested in something that evidence shows is better, then surely Lib Dems should support that. And I think there are more important education policies over which the Lib Dems should be attacking the government. Free Schools perhaps?

  • Eddie Sammon I think your first comment on this thread has been vindicated: any policy which aims to help all children but which then results in the reduction or even loss of additional funding specifically for disadvantaged children (pupil premium) is indeed “a nightmare policy”.

    Tpkfar “we had the crazy situation of schools chasing parents to apply for free school meals they didn’t need”

    Complete nightmare!


  • Ian Hurdley 6th Sep '15 - 7:48am

    @ Eddie Sammon “Well Simon, perhaps you can say what I have said that is “ill-informed”. It is my opinion. If someone sees it as a tax on the middle class then it is not “ill-informed” it is their opinion. I haven’t given any facts.”

    Not so. What you think is what you think. If what you think flies in the face of the facts then it is not an opinion; it is a prejudice, pure and simple. ‘Opinions’ flow from a knowledge of the facts, and an appraisal of those facts. You thinking something is simply what you think, and you are wrong.

  • peter tyzack 6th Sep '15 - 11:32am

    from the comments above it is clear who hasn’t any experience of school except as a pupil/ hasn’t got any children/doesn’t know their own parents.
    If children visit my house (for whatever reason) they get fed when meal-time comes around, I don’t expect their parents to pay for it, it is a common courtesy. If as an adult I go on a course or to a meeting which straddles break/lunch-times, then provision is made without cost, it is part of the event. So when children go to school they should have the same expectations. We provide somewhere to hang their coat and a toilet to use, or are we going to start charging for that too?

  • John Tilley 6th Sep '15 - 12:58pm

    peter tyzack 6th Sep ’15 – 11:32am
    “….We provide somewhere to hang their coat and a toilet to use, or are we going to start charging for that too?”

    Don’t say such things too loudly, Peter Tyzack. There are people about who would take up your suggestion.

    Some of them want to reduce state expenditure to 35% whatever the impact.
    They do this because 35 is a “magic number” and if they reduce state spending to 35% they guarantee that the sun will always shine and The Lord Hayek will descend from the heavens in a golden chariot. This was a terribly popular belief in Yeovil until recently.

  • Peter T

    Why should taxpayers pay to feed Clegg and Cameron’s children?

  • George Crozier 6th Sep '15 - 1:50pm

    Phyllis you may as well ask why taxpayers should pay for the education of Cameron and Clegg – or any other well off person’s – children. Or their healthcare, or the parks they use, or any other kind of universal provision.

    Like some others I was sceptical about this policy when I first heard about it, but for the reasons set out by Clare Brown above I was won round. It is soundly evidence based.

  • Peter Watson 6th Sep '15 - 2:11pm

    @George Crozier “It is soundly evidence based.”
    I am away from a proper computer but as far as I recall the evidence was very much that other policies offered better educational benefits and value for money.
    Before Clegg’s announcement on free school meals came out of the blue, Lib Dems had opposed the idea (which was also in the Green Party 2010 manifesto).

  • Peter Watson 6th Sep '15 - 2:30pm

    @Peter tyzack
    I think your point is a little unclear since it is not obvious if you believe there is a situation when free food should stop being provided by the state. Free meals for all from birth to 18? At university and college? For all apprentices? For everybody everywhere?
    The best analogy is probably hospital or prison, i.e. somewhere the recipient is not present by choice, and whether or not the provision of free food should be means-tested? Perhaps it should.
    In many ways this is a strange debate with usual left-right positions reversed. It is an idea that came from the left (Labour and the Greens) but seems to be favoured by some to the right as a universal benefit and disliked by those to the left as a subsidy for the middle-classes.

  • John Tilley 6th Sep '15 - 2:32pm

    I’m the last person to defend feather-bedding the rich but I would much rather provide free school meals to every child, with an absolute minimum of bureaucracy and means-testing. Keep it simple and equally applied, is usually a good basis for any public service.
    The government could pay for this by charging a sensibly higher rate of income tax and wealth tax on their rich parents. This would pay for a great deal more than just free school meals. In that way all children would be better off whilst rich parents would probably not even notice the marginal increase in their taxes.
    This was in fact the system that we used for funding schooling and school meals for decades from 1945.

  • So people who cannot afford to adequately feed themselves or their own kids must pay through their taxes to feed the children of millionaires and the comfortably- off? It’s a novel form of wealth re-distribution when you take from the poor to give to the rich!

  • Eddie Sammon 6th Sep '15 - 2:47pm

    Ian Hurdley, I haven’t said anything prejudicial. Thinking parents will act in the best interests of their children rather than through class solidarity of the poor isn’t prejudiced but I think grounded in reality. I support some help for disadvantaged kids, but I think this should be at the primary school stage and then the focus should be on grades, not parents background.

    It’s a fair opinion. We shouldn’t try to silence debate and say only academics and people who agree with the policy should have a say on it.

  • Eddie Sammon 6th Sep '15 - 2:49pm

    Thanks Phyllis, but as I said: I think the pupil premium should be significantly reformed for high schools. In my opening paragraph I didn’t say I wanted no help for the disadvantaged but a “a better way to help struggling kids”, which seems to have been lost.

  • Paul Kennedy 6th Sep '15 - 4:59pm

    The Tory manifesto said:

    “We will support families by providing free meals to all infants.”

    If this isn’t just Daily Mail kite-flyiing, I can see a Focus article writing itself.

  • “Do you think there should be an income level above which parents should be charged for state education?” (Simon Shaw 6th Sep ’15 – 1:44pm)

    I thought there already was, namely income tax: the more you earn the more you pay…
    Additionally, I expect many schools add a surcharge on to school trips etc. so that they can more easily waiver such fee’s for those who cannot afford – certainly this was the case at my children’s primary school, this enabled an entire class to go on a trip, so avoiding some pupils from being visibly ‘excluded’ among their peers.

    “So people who cannot afford to adequately feed themselves or their own kids must pay through their taxes to feed the children of millionaires and the comfortably- off?” (Phyllis 6th Sep ’15 – 2:38pm)

    I would be interested to know how many millionaires send their kids to state pre-schools and primary schools…
    As for the comfortably-off, this label can be applied across the income spectrum, as I’ve come across many people on “low incomes” who regard themselves as being comfortably-off…

    What is interesting is that those who express these ideas seem to think it is okay to punish the child for the misdemeanour’s of the parent, failing to realise that this puts them with the Indian village elders who sentenced two sisters to rape for the ‘crime’ of the brother going off with a married woman; yes different degree’s of punishment but the same fundamental principle.

    Finally, what is interesting is that those who jump up and down about taxpayers monies being used to fund non-means tested services and seem to regard any one who isn’t on benefits or “low pay” as “middle class”, “comfortably-off” etc. seem to forget, is that the more you ask people to pay directly, the more people have to earn to be “middle class”, “comfortably-off” etc. and so further the inequality in society…

  • Eddie Sammon 6th Sep '15 - 7:35pm

    Some people seem to have an all or nothing utopian view on child inequality. People accept inequality between countries, so unless you eliminate this then how is it possible for all kids to have the same chances?

    This idea of “equal opportunity but not equal outcome” seems to be partially something people come up with to make themselves feel better, because we are a million miles away from equal opportunities and we shouldn’t make out it can be achieved with just one more heave on education funding.

  • David Allen 6th Sep '15 - 7:46pm

    Sometimes, the answer to a question isn’t just “Perfect” or “Rubbish”. Whether posters on this website are able to get their minds around this possibility is not always clear.

    The idea was certainly supported by a fair amount of evidence. However, it was far from perfect, because it was brought in as a short-term gimmick which hadn’t been thought through. A lot of money was spent in a hurry to build kitchens for schools which didn’t have them. Yet the funding was only a short-term wheeze, so it’s easy for the new government to abandon it. Now, all those Clegg kitchens will presumably get mothballed again. What a waste.

    The Coalition Government – Yes, Lib Dems were at the heart of national affairs for five years. In The Thick of It, in fact.

  • Roland

    If you’d read my previous posts you’d see that when I refer to ‘millionaires and the comfortably-off’, I am talking about Cameron and Clegg respectively

  • Phylis – I actually don’t see anything wrong will millionaires sending their children to state schools; their children will gain a much better understanding of our society and their role in it than being cosseted at some expensive boarding school for rich twits. Likewise the less well off can benefit from this rubbing of shoulders.

    So I’m happy for David and Nick’s children to go to state schools; I only wish they went to schools in their respective constituencies,…

  • @Roland “Phylis – I actually don’t see anything wrong will millionaires sending their children to state schools”


    And in the “bad old days” of Direct Grant Grammar Schools and the Assisted Places Scheme, the less well off got to attend Independent Schools thus increasing the opportunities for inter-class interaction.

  • Helen Dudden 20th Sep '15 - 9:42am

    Promises, promises. On this occasion I write on your page, with respect, and I hope understanding.

    Housing, the cut backs, the food banks, they do not contain fresh food. The NHS. Disability.

    The refugees situation, again, not very well planned. Human we all are, race and religion, we all have a right to life and exist in a free world.

    Time for a working together.

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