29 July 2010

Labour planned to extend free school meals in September 2010 to pupils from low-income working families as I explained in my June 2010 post Failing the Aristotle test. Details of the Labour plans are in paragraph 5.31 here. The Tory Libdem government has blocked the extension; pupils currently eligible will continue to get free school meals.

At present 8168 pupils in secondary, primary, and nursery schools in Cornwall are eligible for free school meals (January 2010 figures).

Now we know the numbers of pupils in Cornwall (and the rest of England) that Labour’s extension would have covered.

A parliamentary answer (Hansard 27 July 2010 column 1215W) reveals that this September there would have been a further 4400 pupils in Cornwall eligible for free school meals; and in September 2011, when every pupil from a low-income working household would have been eligible for free school meals, the Labour extension would have raised the total number of Cornwall pupils eligible to 9700. Those figures are in addition to those presently eligible.

It would have been a substantial increase in the number of eligible pupils, a major move forward which would have helped reduce the poverty and deprivation some children and families in Cornwall face – and nourished children work better at school; it would have helped to cushion the very desirable transfer into work of some adults here. The Tories and Lidems have stopped it, snatching the help away, depriving the deprived. They are punishing schoolchildren for the sins of bankers and politicians. They should think again and restore Labour’s civilised plans.

Low-income was defined in Labour’s plans as income below £16 190 a year, about £311 a week. This is around the 25th percentile of wages in Cornwall as a whole, that is, about a quarter of all fulltime Cornwall workers are paid less than this (ASHE 2009).

Labour’s phased scheme gave free school meals to half the additionally eligible in September 2010 and to all the additionally eligible in September 2011.

As well as three running pilots which will continue, Labour also planned to extend the pilots to five other areas to test the value of universal free school meals and these additional pilots have been dropped too.

An informed comment from Child Poverty Action on the abandonment of the free school meals extension is here.