Lib Dems hit back against free school lunch attacks. Clegg on Mail: “utterly wrong”. Laws on Cummings: “utter balls”

daily mail free school lunchesToday’s Daily Mail front page was dominated by an attack on the Lib Dem plans to bring in free school lunches for all infants: “Free school meals fiasco,” it screamed.

Nick Clegg quickly refuted the Mail’s attack in a lengthy post on the party’s website – here’s an excerpt:

The Liberal Democrats are never going to be loved in the pages of the Daily Mail: our open, liberal and progressive brand of politics tends to be at odds with their editorial worldview (to put it mildly). However, even I have been surprised at the level of criticism – much of it misleading – aimed at Liberal Democrat plans to provide free school meals to children in infants school.

This is a policy that will save a Daily Mail reader who has two children at infants’ school nearly £900 a year. It will improve the health, behaviour and results of Britain’s schoolchildren, across the board. It will help level the playing field, allowing poorer children to get ahead. This isn’t just a good policy – it’s one of the Coalition’s best.

Yet the Mail doesn’t like it, arguing that free school meals are a waste of money, are being rushed through and will be forced on schools before they are properly prepared.

The critique is utterly wrong. Indeed, the opposite is true – and it’s important that parents and teachers get the facts. …

The Children’s Society backs it, as does the Child Poverty Action Group, the Chief Medical Officer and Britain’s major teaching and head teaching unions are behind the principle. I want us to go further in the future, extending free school meals to all primary school children when money allows. Ignore the naysayers: this is a great policy, of which the Liberal Democrats are extremely proud.

Meanwhile Michael Gove’s former special adviser, the controversial Dominic Cummings, also tried to put the boot in, branding it “a dumb idea badly executed”.

Lib Dem Schools minister David Laws was having none of it, telling BBC Radio 4’s The World at One:

“What he said about the background to the introduction to this policy is complete and utter balls. The DfE was not opposed to this policy; it was the result of pilots undertaken since 2009 and a school food review chaired by people independent of the department.

“Dom really ought to know – and he mustn’t distort these things – that this recommendation came out of the school [food] plan, the department thought about it very carefully, I spoke to the secretary of state about it and he was very supportive before Nick Clegg made the announcement and it was very carefully costed by officials within the department, and the department was very positive about it.

“I just think that this stuff from Dom reflects his own personal views. It doesn’t reflect the views of the secretary of state – who I have spoken to extensively about this, including before our policy announcement – it doesn’t reflect obviously Nick Clegg’s view or mine.

“Of course when you do big bold things, there are always going to be noises often from people saying: ‘Why didn’t you do this instead or that instead?’. This is a good policy, it’s a bold policy and I’m confident that we will deliver it and that the vast majority of schools and parents are incredibly positive about it.”

Lib Dem MP Sir Nick Harvey, a critic of Nick Clegg’s plan when first announced, wrote about the current status of the policy here on LibDemVoice last week, Making free school meals work.

When we asked Lib Dem members what they thought of the policy before Christmas, 60% supported it.

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  • A Social Liberal 11th Mar '14 - 8:35pm

    I hope that the scribblers at the Daily Hate get chance to see the job The Huddersfield Town Foundation are having to do. As seen tonight on Look North they are providing school children in the Huddersfield area with free breakfasts because an estimated 3 out of 10 do not get a proper meal from one school dinner to the next.

    I also hope that whoever wrote the various garbage attacking the Lib Dems over this feel properly ashamed. Well, i can always hope.

  • “It will help level the playing field, allowing poorer children to get ahead.”

    But poorer children already get free school meals. It’s the richer children who are going to benefit from this. It sounds as though Nick Clegg thinks the poor currently have an unfair advantage!

  • Alexander Matthews 12th Mar '14 - 12:05am

    As a child you used to be sent to school with mouldy bread for lunch, I am a massive advocate of free school meals.

    The first thing to remember is that this will not just help the ‘middle classes’; there is a massive group of people who cannot afford school meals, but are not entitled to free school meals under the current system.

    The second thing to remember is that food has a massive bearing on one’s educational attainment. If students are having at least one good, healthy meal a day this could have a massive impact on their future educational achievements. However, many currently do not have a good meal because they either their parents cannot afford it or feel stigmatised for using state support.

    Finally, this will save money in the long run. Young students who do not have proper, healthy food not only run the risk of having their education hindered by it, but they also face massive health problems later in life, which will only cost us more in the long run.

  • It is absolutely wonderful how people can come up with a hundred and one arguments in favour of state benefits, when it’s the middle class receiving them – and a hundred and one arguments for cutting them when they’re not going to “people like us”!

  • This is NOT a script from the TV programme ‘The Thick of It’.
    From The Independent —
    David Laws, Liberal Democrat schools minister “What he said about the background to the introduction of this policy is complete and utter balls.”
    Liberal Democrat press office “Not just any total and utter balls, but total and utter balls ‘of the first order’. So it’s REALLY total and utter balls.”

    This is the level of sophistication in the discussion at the top of the Department that is responsible for our schools !
    Were we not told that Laws was the very clever chap that just had to be brought back into a ministerial job, because Nick Clegg could not cope without him ?

  • I was ambivalent about the policy to start with, had come round to the view that it was a good thing, and now that the Daily Mail are against it am reassured it must be very good indeed!

  • Alexander Matthews 12th Mar '14 - 1:40pm

    “Chris 12th Mar ’14 – 8:44am
    It is absolutely wonderful how people can come up with a hundred and one arguments in favour of state benefits, when it’s the middle class receiving them – and a hundred and one arguments for cutting them when they’re not going to “people like us”!”

    Yes, Chris, I am so middle class, what with my factory worker father and part-time secretary mother, neither of who could afford to give me fresh bread for my midday meal, yet were still considered too rich for me to be able to have state support for my meals!

    Go take your hyperbole elsewhere, please!

  • Alexander

    That may well be an argument for increasing benefits for the low-paid.

    But you know as well as I do that it’s no argument at all for giving free meals to middle-class children whose parents can afford perfectly well to feed them – while cutting benefits for the low-paid! How can you defend that?

  • Graham Evans 12th Mar '14 - 8:03pm

    I suspect that from an educational point of view a free breakfast for children might actually be more beneficial, or perhaps a free brunch. However, it is well established that means-tested benefits are usually expensive to operate, and the “savings” often marginal. We all know too that means-tested benefits for the poor often result in poor benefits. Moreover psychologically there is a lot to be said for everyone getting something out of a system, even if through taxes they actually pay more in. And of course this is what happens in Denmark, which is one of the most highly taxed countries is Europe, and apparently the happiest.

  • “We all know too that means-tested benefits for the poor often result in poor benefits.”

    Well, free school meals have been means-tested until now, and that doesn’t seem to have turned them into a “poor benefit”.

    It’s difficult to see how it could, unless you’re suggesting they will be turned into half-price meals or something.

  • How will schools with no kitchen provide hot meals for every child ?

    How will schools with no dining room ensure that every child eats their food ? Where will they be expected to sit ?

    What is the response to the school that tried it & found they had to start the lunch period at 11am & finish it at 2pm ?

    Did anybody think through the practicalities before announcing it – it certainly doesn’t appear so.

  • Peter Watson 13th Mar '14 - 8:01am

    “This is a policy that will save a Daily Mail reader who has two children at infants’ school nearly £900 a year”
    And is that a good use of taxpayer’s money? My money.
    In this article by Clegg, and in his planned response to a planted question at PMQs, the first point he makes in defence of this policy is to emphasise that it will put money in the pocket of voters who don’t need it, a pre-election bribe.
    Over recent years, at every level, from Simon Hughes down to local councillors and MSPs, Lib Dems have opposed this policy when other parties proposed it, and now Lib Dems seem to own it despite others making the same arguments against it that Lib Dems used to.

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