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Thursday, 4 February 2016

Senior Lib Dems slam Tory cuts to free school meals

The Liberal Democrats have criticised the government's decision for cuts to Universal Free School Meals support. The Government has axed support that helps small schools with 150 pupils or fewer fund universal free meals for infants. In 2015/6 the money was worth at least £2,300 for these schools.

Universal Free School Meals were a key Liberal Democrat policy delivered in the Coalition Government, in September 2014, to provide every infant child in England with a healthy meal at lunchtime, saving families around £437 per child per year.

Evidence shows that where children have been given a free school dinner, students were months ahead academically of their peers elsewhere. These academic improvements were most marked among children from less affluent families.

There was speculation that George Osborne was going to cut Universal Infant Free School Meals entirely ahead of the Autumn Statement. Schools with 150 or fewer pupils were this year given a grant worth £2,300 to help deliver the policy. Funding which has been discontinued for 2016/17.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson John Pugh MP said: "Many schools live with tight budgets and this could threaten the viability of some small rural schools. Whitehall seemed to care about the bottom line rather than helping the most disadvantaged pupils. They need to put attainment before profit." 

"It is a horrific decision and it will hurt hundreds of rural communities who deserve better than this." Mr Pugh added.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg who, as Deputy Prime Minister, oversaw the introduction of Universal Infant Free School Meals, also commented: "This will have a big impact on some of the smallest schools across the country. Combined with the Conservatives’ decision to impose a real terms cut to schools’ budgets it is going to make it even harder for schools to deliver the good quality education their pupils deserve."