WATCH: Layla Moran attack Tory and DUP on cuts to free school meals

Back in the 70s, Margaret Thatcher was dubbed Thatcher the Milk Snatcher as she introduced cuts to free school milk. Nearly 50 years on, it’s another Tory Government, in cahoots with the DUP, who are trying to restrict free school meals, which were introduced due to Lib Dem pressure during the coalition years.

Watch Layla Moran speak in favour of extending free school meals, not cutting them back and urging the government not to close the childcare vouchers scheme:

The text of what she said is below:

I put on record that the Liberal Democrats are proud of the role that we played in the coalition Government to secure a generous tax-free offer on childcare that helps many families. Although it is true that it will extend to more families, it is also true that many others will be left out. That was never the intention. Many parents—particularly those with older children, lower childcare costs or lower incomes—will find themselves worse off under tax-free childcare than they would have been with childcare vouchers. It is unfair to close the scheme to new entrants, particularly because, unsurprisingly, the information about the closure of the scheme has not been spread as far and wide as it could have been. I urge all those parents who are listening to the debate—I am sure that there are many—to do their research before April, so that they can decide what is best for their families. All we are suggesting is that tax-free childcare and childcare vouchers are kept open concurrently, so that we can provide maximum flexibility for families. Surely, the Government would agree that that would be a good thing.

I hope that the whole House will join me in paying tribute the former Liberal Democrat Ministers David Laws and Sarah Teather for battling to secure universal free school meals for all children in key stage 1. Soon after I was elected, I visited West Oxford Community Primary School and had the pleasure of meeting the catering manager. She told me that, despite being sceptical of the policy initially, she now thinks it is brilliant. She took great pride in telling me of a boy from a deprived background who did not eat much veg at home because it is quite expensive. Slowly—slowly—she got him to love broccoli.

I am a primary school governor, and the teachers at the school are absolutely clear—this is backed up by the evidence—that universal free school meals are beneficial for learning and attainment and help all children. The Government like to nick Liberal Democrat policies—including same-sex marriage, the pupil premium and lifting the income tax threshold, as we heard in the spring statement earlier—and I am not precious, so they can have another one: extend free school meals to all children in primary schools. If not that, they could at least extend them to all children on universal credit.

Unlike under tax credits, universal credit creates an absurd situation wherein a single-parent household on the national living wage will have to work eight more hours to make it work. Surely, that is not what the Government intended. Linked to that, of course, is the fact that the number of children on free school meals will affect the pupil premium. I posit that that is the reason why the Government will not roll out free school meals to all children on universal credit—because, yes, it would be prohibitively expensive and would stop the targeting of the pupil premium.

May I suggest to the Secretary of State that, to sort that out, just decouple them? They are, in their own right, worthy policies. They are policies that are working and there is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. May I urge the Government to think again on free school meals and to think again on closing the childcare voucher scheme?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • John Marriott 14th Mar '18 - 10:03am

    It might be old fashioned, but a balanced diet really can lead to a balanced view on life. Studies in US prisons have shown that many inmates’ behaviour improved when their diets were regulated. As a former secondary school teacher I am invinced that a good amount of ‘challenging’ (aka BAD) behaviour is down to what youngsters eat. And let’s not forget the ticking obesity time bomb which starts when the child is young and can lead to all sorts of health problems sooner rather than later.

    So, all you Coalition sceptics, let’s salute at least ONE positive achievement and make sure that it is not watered down!

  • John Marriott 14th Mar '18 - 10:04am

    Sorry, for ‘invinced’ read ‘convinced’. Should have had my porridge this morning!

  • Helen Dudden 14th Mar '18 - 10:14am

    School meals can be a very important meal for some. I know at one school in a high poverty area in Bath, the subject of breakfast clubs was written about with negative comments. With the deep cuts on a social level, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. A warm meal is enjoyed by my great granddaughter on her first year at school, like others no stigma attached. The healthy eating is important for older children too. I know the Gregg’s Charity also support breakfast clubs, this could be extended to other doners. I’m sorry this government is so short sighted to the consequences of their actions on children’s health.

  • Universal Free School Meals was indeed an achievement to be proud of that was delivered very efficiently in 2014 (David Laws was the Schools Minister at that time). Glad Layla Moran is reminding everyone of this. What I don’t understand is why other Lib Dem MPs, activists & candidates rarely mention this.

  • Peter Watson 15th Mar '18 - 8:12am

    @Mike Read “What I don’t understand is why other Lib Dem MPs, activists & candidates rarely mention this.”
    Universal free school meals was never a Lib Dem policy. It had been opposed by Lib Dems at every level before Nick Clegg announcing it out of the blue at Conference. The initial idea and policy was Labour’s when Ed Balls was Education Secretary and commissioned trials. A report into the findings from those trials was broadly welcomed by the Tory Education Secretary, Michael Gove, months before Clegg’s surprise announcement. The policy appeared to be quid pro quo for the Tories’ married couples’ tax allowance (also opposed by Lib Dems) and looked like a £400 per year bribe targeted at potential Lib Dem voters. At the time the evidence showed that investing the same money into other education initiatives (why not more pupil premium?) could deliver better results.

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