20,072 Cambridgeshire children aged 4-7 years will no longer receive free school meals if the proposals to axe universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) go ahead. This includes 2121 children who live in poverty. In the Cambridge constituency alone, 2761 infants would miss out, 357 of whom are in poverty.
A new school survey carried out for the Soil Association’s Food for Life programme showed that 37% of schools in England fear that their school meal service will close if the infants’ free school meals are slashed. This rises to 47% if it is a small school with its own kitchen .
91% of schools surveyed believe that pupil health and nutrition would be impacted by the potential withdrawal of free school meals for all infants. For many children this is the only hot meal they get in the day.Jamie Oliver, who has been campaigning to save infant free school meals, said: “If the cuts to free school meals go ahead, it will be a huge backwards step for children’s health. There’s no replacing a cooked school lunch, it’s just not the same. Healthier school food was a major pillar in the government’s already pitiful childhood obesity plan. Take this pillar out of the plan and you are left with nothing because it props up the whole system and helps to increase the numbers of paying parents. It’s bad for kids, bad for local jobs, bad for local communities. This survey shows it’s bad for schools too.”
Nicola Douglas, Fourfields Community Primary School, Cambridgeshire, commented on the proposed cuts: “How can this be taken away after such a short time? Schools have built new kitchens to accommodate this. Pupils need to have the same start in life where possible. This has an impact on the children and the staff.”
Co-author of the School Food Plan Henry Dimbleby said: “This survey is further proof, if it were needed, that removing Universal Infant Free School Meals would be disruptive, unpopular and woefully short-sighted. Head teachers – the people with the best on-the-ground view of what works in schools – say universally that withdrawing UIFSM will hurt pupils health and that free breakfasts are not a viable substitute.”
James Cashmore, Director, Food for Life at the Soil Association, commented, “It’s clear from this survey that primary schools are hugely concerned about the potential withdrawal of Universal Infant Free School Meals, a policy which was backed by all political parties just three years ago, and which should continue to be supported by the new government. Our findings indicate that less than 4% of schools believe that an offer of a free breakfast for all primary school pupils is a good alternative to a hot lunch. In contrast, 91% believe that pupil health and nutrition would be affected, and importantly 3 in 5 schools believe that pupil attainment would also suffer. For hundreds of thousands of children from ordinary families, school lunch is the only hot meal that they receive. Scrapping free school meals for all infants would also mean absolute economic disaster for many school kitchens, with complete closure predicted in around 2 in 5 schools – many of whom stretched their own budgets to invest in upgraded facilities and support the policy in the past three years. ”
Those who are against the proposed cuts are being encouraged to let their local candidates know this is an important issue for them, and to sign a petition started by a headmaster which has over 50,000 supporters.