Labour is committed to investing in our young people, and ensuring that every child is given the opportunities and support they need to fulfil their full potential. This will build on the last Labour government’s proud legacy of investing in our young people, from the over 3,500 Sure Start centres we opened, to the record investment in schools.
Conversely, the Conservative government is failing adequately to support young people. For example, since 2010 over a third of Sure Start centres have been closed, and now funding per pupil will be cut in this Parliament – the last time this happened was when Mr John Major was the Conservative Prime Minister.
Instead of pursuing policies that will help every child, the Tories are pursuing the discredited and divisive policy of academic selection, which will act as a barrier to social mobility, and make life harder for the vast majority of working-class and middle-class families.
As a way of helping to achieve our goal of trying to ensure that every child is given the best start in life, Labour is committed to universal free school meals for primary school children.
The Coalition Government’s own independent School Food Plan recommended that all primary school pupils be given a free school meal. This was partially introduced by the Coalition Government: since 2014, children in Reception, in Year 1, and in Year 2 do all receive a free school meal. Regrettably, that policy was never fully implemented.
The evidence shows that there are clear educational benefits to providing universal free school meals, enabling primary school pupils to advance an additional two months on average. These findings were confirmed by the National Centre for Social Research, and by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, both of which found that a free school meal is likely to improve pupils’ productivity.
Universal provision will be more effective than targeting the policy, as it will remove the stigma from receiving free school meals. Moreover, there are clear health benefits stemming from a free school meal, with the vast majority of pupils who take one (90%) eating a lunch which includes vegetables or fruit, compared with only 58% of pupils who take a packed lunch.
This policy will also make life easier for parents, who will save time and money, and know that their child is getting a healthy meal during the school day.
Universal provision means every child who needs a free school meal will benefit from one, including the 500,000 who the Children’s Society estimates were not claiming the free school meal to which they were already entitled, and the further 700,000 children in poverty who were not entitled to FSMs at all.